The End of History
First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2007, Volume 14, #7
Written by John Metzger
Wed July 11, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
Itís easy to curse the Brits for the endless stream of increasingly bland singer/songwriters that they have sent sailing toward American soil in recent years. Each subsequent wave that has crashed upon the star-spangled shoreline has eroded further the groundbreaking work of Radiohead. Coldplay has mutated into Keane, which in turn has been followed by the likes of James Blunt and James Morrison. On the other hand, itís easy to forgive the U.K., when the nation serves as a launching pad for artists that are as confident and fully realized as Swedenís Jose Gonzalez and Irelandís Damien Rice have been.
Falling into the latter camp is Fionn Regan, a current resident of Brighton, who was born in Bray, a coastal town that is 12 miles south of Dublin. The End of History, his debut, is a strikingly lovely affair that captures the quiet beauty and subtle grace of life by the sea. Throughout the set, his gently finger-picked guitar patterns fuse Paul Simon to Nick Drake, while his vocals wander from the wearily sad intimacy that has become Riceís fortť to the anguished Thom Yorke-does-Jeff Buckley wail that marks Noah (Ghost in a Sheet). In a fashion that is similar to Gonzalezís Veneer and Riceís 9, however, there also is a considerably darker current that flows menacingly beneath the surface of the endeavor.
"Ideas are like sparrows," Regan sings on Hey Rabbit before adding, "They dart down the hall, the chimney, and out of the spout/Down a wormhole, and back out my mouth." In one sense, his shared theory is meant to mirror the serpentine motion of life that is outlined in his songs. On the other hand, it also serves as an apt description of his approach to writing lyrics. Like a poet, each word that Regan utters has been chosen with the utmost care, its usefulness weighted against how well its meaning shades his story and how comfortably it snuggles into its surroundings. Much like Bob Dylan, Regan allows his phrases to twist and turn around each other, providing the illusion of a stream of consciousness conversation. His vocals are, at times, romantic and beguiling, and they are used to lure the listener down his songsí dusky, dangerous paths.
Barely containing his murderous rage, Reganís contempt for some of the characters that lurk at the fringes of his tales comes blaring through the biting, restrained anger of his delivery. "If you pull a hatchet/Iíll pull something to match it/How íbout your wife/I will give her...," he states in Snowy Atlas Mountains over a quiet but turbulent bed of notes from his acoustic guitar. His pause is brief, but it lends an ominous tone to the affair. He backs away from his intimidating stance by concluding his thought with "...a good life" only to then thrust the knife blade forward, plunging it deep into his targetís heart when he scathingly sings, "My vehicle is in your drive." There can be no mistaking his intent.
A reflection, perhaps, of these troubled times, threats of death and murder hover everywhere on The End of History. Another pregnant pause is used just as effectively to add a chilling undertone to the otherwise luminous Abacus as Regan sings, "Drinking alphabetically/íCause the beautyís gone all sore/Honey dripping, pale of skin/Well, thereís bodies underneath...the floor." On Black Water Child, he uses "skeletons" and "broken bones" to define a relationship that isnít destined to work, while during Hunters Map, his rippling accompaniment on guitar casts an aqueous net around his lyrics. "Depressions in your neck/Heís just keeping you in check," he observes. Nevertheless, Reganís need to provide comfort and warmth to those whom he loves ó those whom he finds it necessary to protect ó gives the set its balance and keeps it from becoming claustrophobic.
In an age when style routinely triumphs over substance, at a time when crafting a captivating single has become more important than sculpting a cohesive endeavor, Fionn Regan has come through the morass of mainstream folk-pop with an album that succeeds on all counts. The End of History is indeed a tremendously impressive debut, one that is as mesmerizing as it is moving.
The End of History is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box