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Nitin Sawhney – Last Days of Meaning

Nitin Sawhney, Last Days of Meaning

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

NITIN Sawhney is nothing if not ambitious. Never one to shy away from challenging himself, Last Days of Meaning us arguably his most challenging studio work to date.

An experimental concept LP that delivers a trademark slice of eclecticism, it also boasts a narrative that traces the story of a character named Donald Meaning (voiced by John Hurt), an embittered old Dickensian man, who is moved to reflect on his life by the arrival of a mix tape sent to him by his estranged ex-wife.

Meaning sets out as something of a stereotype… an old timer fearful of immigrants, terrorists and the world outside, who is stuck in his ways and beliefs.

He sits in a room raging against childhood memories, society, himself and a small tape recorder sent to him by his wife (the contents of which provide the album’s songs).

Over the course of finding out about Meaning, Sawhney weaves in subtle social and political commentary, while providing an affecting but never heavy handed tale of one man’s move towards some kind of peace.

The songs, meanwhile, feature contributions from the likes of Yolanda Quartey, Natty, Tina Grace and Nicki Wells, and cover a spectrum of styles, from blues to pop via world music and Punjab.

It’s an interesting listen that’s, by turns, beautiful, poignant, bittersweet, melancholy and mellow. But it also struggles to escape the feel of a concept album.

Hurt’s spoken interludes, while delivered with the trademark gravitas the actor brings to any of his work, are sometimes distracting and upset the smooth flow of the songs. Hence, you have to be in the right mood to take the whole journey.

The songs, though, continually offer something, whether it’s the sublime blues opener of The Devil & Midnight, the sitar and bongo-beats of Kite (featuring Soumik Datta and Nicki Wells), or the mellowness of Confessions From The Womb.

Occasionally, there’s a sparseness to tracks that similarly challenging, with Projector by Tina Grace and Jon Bilbrough being one such example of a track (early on especially) that feels more in service to the story than the listening pleasure.

But at other times, this gentle slow build approach can be quietly disarming, such as in the Ashwin Srinivasan featuring Daydream, or the strings-backed tenderness of I’m Done, which works around a tender lead vocal from Hannah Peel.

Other stand-alone song moments to look out for and savour are the similarly beautiful Tender World and the Natty album closer Taste The Air, which weaves a spoken vocal over some optimistic strings and draws things to a positive finale.

Last Days of Meaning certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea and it’s not without problems, for sure, but it hits more than it misses and continues to underline the ambition and immense talent of Sawhney as both a concept artist and a socially relevant performer of genuinely high quality.

Download picks: The Devil And Midnight, Confessions From The Womb, I’m Done, Kite, Daydream, Tender World, Taste The Air

Track listing:

  1. The Devil And Midnight
  2. Reflection 1
  3. Confessions From The Womb
  4. Reflection 2
  5. Say You Will
  6. Reflection 3
  7. I’m Done
  8. Kite
  9. Reflection 4
  10. Projector
  11. Reflection 5
  12. Daydream
  13. Tender World
  14. So Long
  15. Reflection 6
  16. Laugh
  17. Reflection 7
  18. Taste The Air
  19. Reflection 8