Gruff Rhys: Sadness Sets Me Free – Cosmic loneliness has rarely sounded so good

Rhys reaches a recording quarter-century milestone in fine style

Sadness Sets Me Free
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Artist: Gruff Rhys
Label: Rough Trade

The 25th record Gruff Rhys has had a “hand in writing” explores “sadness and the general terror of cosmic loneliness”, which can sound both disconcerting and comforting.

There is a country swing to the title song, where Rhys seems to conjure up the spirit of Merle Haggard. It is a gorgeous love letter to sadness, harnessing a loose quality that dances lightly across every composition. Bad Friend, with its lovely piano and spectre of Italian library music, is a joy; the strings on the “pocket symphony” of Celestial Candyfloss add muscularity to a poppy confection. Silver Lining (Lead Balloons) is a skittering, almost-electronic piece, and the sombre tone of On the Far Side of the Dollar foregrounds Rhys asking “how does the ocean speak?”

Perhaps the ocean speaks in tongues; like the whimsical disco on They Sold My Home to Build a Skyscraper, or elegant squelch, as on Peace Signs, or the swooping sea shanty of I Tendered My Resignation.

Cover Up the Cover Up is a highlight, a tender, affecting statement about political disenchantment, sneaking in instructions to “overthrow the monarchy”, with its whispering anarchism, “reinvent the government, let’s do it on Tuesday”. I’ll Keep Singing is a peaceful entreating for togetherness, something Rhys does so well: he inhabits it, conducts it and creates it. At one point it sounds as if he is howling at the moon, or indeed just howling – it sounds freeing.

Siobhán Kane

Siobhán Kane is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture