Glen Hansard: This Wild Willing review – Expressive, risky, resolute and often achingly beautiful
This Wild Willing
It must be a hard enough slog for songwriters to come up with a batch of songs they deem suitable to put on to an album and then engage in promotional gigs and interviews to talk about them.
It takes a certain kind of person to be able to do that well, to tease out in public what they have tackled with in private. In short, to explain themselves and their work, their art, in the hope that some of it will make sense not only to the listener but also to them.
Anyone who has had the experience of watching Glen Hansard in concert or the pleasure of seeing him in conversation will know he has never been short of things to say – and, when it comes to songs, the man is a human jukebox. But even jukeboxes require maintenance now and again.
This Wild Willing is Hansard’s third album in less than four years – it arrives 15 months after last year’s Between Two Shores – and while there has never been any doubt as to the man’s copious creative gifts, there comes a point when you know a shift in gear makes sense.
Between Two Shores and 2015’s Didn’t He Ramble pivoted around similar sparse, anti-climactic and often striking songwriting styles. Topics of remorse twinned with unambiguous music placed him firmly in the role that many latterday fans believed he was born to inhabit: a ruminative singer-songwriter perfectly suited to elegant theatre spaces.
A few years ago, he told The Irish Times that “there isn’t a point where I’m ever reflecting on what or whereabouts my ‘art’ is. I’m just in the middle of it. I’m not setting out to be a master. I’m just on the road, doing the work, not looking up too much.”
It’s quite clear that anyone hoping for a 2019 version of Falling Slowly will be profoundly disappointed
You could say that Hansard is doing just that on This Wild Willing, but something different is at play. Removing himself from the simplistic dignity of previous solo albums, here Hansard comes out if not exactly punch-drunk then certainly with a few swings. There is a rawness that hasn’t been touched on in years.
The squally, lurching I’ll Be You, Be Me is dense in atmosphere but light enough overall to get swept up in it. Don’t Settle begins with the kind of subtle piano frills that on previous Hansard records would have drifted to even more delicate conclusions, but here it gradually morphs into one of those ferocious, ecstatic songs that long-term fans of The Frames would be familiar with.
His vocals lead by example, too, rising from a veritable whisper to a scream as the song climaxes. By the third track, Fool’s Game – another dynamic excursion into and then out of a sonic maelstrom that brings to mind Sigur Rós at their most forceful – it’s quite clear that anyone hoping for a 2019 version of Falling Slowly will be profoundly disappointed.
And so the album continues. Other tracks, such as Mary, Weight of the World, Who’s Gonna Be Your Baby Now, and Leave a Light, are equally nailed to innovation and investigation.
Assisted throughout by producer Dave Odlum and Joe Doyle (both of whom have connections with The Frames), Markéta Irglová, Irish electronic musicians Deasy and Dunk Murphy and a number of Iranian musicians/vocalists, there are no easy directions chosen.
Disruptive, stressful, resolute, expressive, risky yet often achingly beautiful – this album shows Glen Hansard is still on the road, still doing the work. Fair play to him.