Matthew Devereux: House Devil – The Pale frontman’s solo album feels like a missed opportunity

A lugubrious tone and sense of aimlessness drag this philosophical effort down

House Devil
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Artist: Matthew Devereux
Genre: Rock
Label: Self-released

The last time Matthew Devereux released a solo album it was a very different proposition. The Dubliner, best known as frontman of the 1990s Irish indie-rock stalwarts The Pale, flipped the script and leaned into instrumental ambient electronica on that 2003 record, Tap, Tap, Tap. Two decades later its follow-up sounds more in line with his day job in The Pale (who are still an active group), although remnants of that sense of experimentation linger throughout these 10 tracks.

The album’s opening track, Haunted By, begins as a strummed acoustic song before cello and piano interlace with quirky effects, as Devereux sings that he has “grown a little philosophical, but at least I’ve grown” and repeatedly asks the question “Would you rather be haunted by someone from the other side, or someone from this side?”

The songwriter is undoubtedly earnest in his approach, but his propensity to fill every empty space with lyrics (some of them cumbersome and pretentious, others just plain odd, like Mrs Slocombe’s “For all the time you spent setting fire to everyone / You could’ve walked to the centre of the sun”) instead of letting each song breathe and unravel is ultimately his undoing here. Are Candy (“Airplane dropping candy on a city it wants levelled”) and Numbers (“The numbers have no sympathy, the numbers have no heart”) protest songs or simply stream-of-consciousness observations?

The overbearing, lugubrious tone is difficult to shirk, too; it sounds as though Devereux has perhaps been through a difficult period, as songs such as the detached-yet-exasperated Still Life Model and the existential Uncanny Valley suggest. That sense of aimlessness pervades the music, too – which is largely fine, although pitched somewhere between a Tom Waits-style moody murmur and a Depeche Mode/sci-fi-influenced electronic patter. The Boy with X-Ray Eyes is a clear standout, striking a balance between atmosphere, texture and melody, with faint shades of southern gothic giving it a cinematic-soundtrack feel. Devereux’s record as a musician has been long proven, but unfortunately this feels like either a misstep or a missed opportunity.

Lauren Murphy

Lauren Murphy

Lauren Murphy is a freelance journalist and broadcaster. She writes about music and the arts for The Irish Times