Originally from the Isle Of Wight, while he released a download only acoustic project on Bandcamp in 2014, Light Of My Life is Ben’s debut album, a collection of songs since he returned to songwriting in 2019 that affords reflections on escaping, loss, ageing and coming to terms with the past and himself.
Variously accompanied on double bass, pedal steel (by Sarah Jory), and piano alongside the staple bass, drums and guitars, it opens with the puttering drums and laid back feel of ‘Stop The World’, a number about getting older (“Now 40 precious years have come and gone away” and feeling “not young enough to be innocent and neither am I old enough to be wise/Stuck somewhere in between looking naively at the world through ageing eyes”. and looking to make the most of the time (“Jump this train and go get lost/Where we can live our lives, unafraid of time/So stop this world, I’m getting off”).
He picks up the tempo for the country-tinged ‘Live And Let Live’ which, suggesting Jackson Browne influences, is about encouraging tolerance and togetherness (“You’ve got your own opinion/ It doesn’t have to look the same as mine/You’re in a different position/Everybody’s got a hill to climb” and how we’re “Stuck in the same monsoon but we’re not all in the same boat/We all could use a little hope”, with the advice “Don’t look for validation/It only feeds your anxiety”.
If that makes you think of the obsession with social media likes, then fittingly it’s followed by the cascading riff of ‘Social Media State’ (“We sold our souls to Facebook and now they’re selling our dreams”), another laid back rhythm, evocative of Jack Johnson, with a lyric, state rhymed with hate, you’d pretty much expect from the title (“The children of the future/Their faces glued to their screens…Plastic oceans are rising/I see a world up in flames/You’d better go take a selfie baby/You’ll never get the chance again”). The slow and steady piano and strummed guitar title track follows, a love song for his partner (“A ray of sunshine through the blackest fog/You light up every room that you walk into…Your smile can strip the clouds out of the sky/The love that you show to everybody that you know, I’m so lucky I can say that you are mine”).
By contrast of mood, the steady marching ‘Perpetual War’ is a rockier, bluesy number with a funky undercurrent that called to mind hints of Curtis Mayfield and The Temptations, with a lyric of defiance (“You’ve been swinging your sword/You’ve been breaking down doors/You’ve been shouting so loud, your voice has run out, one more time/I gotta fight for my right, to a place, in this world/I’m not gonna yield this time, I’m gonna fight, for my right to be alive”) and a reminder that whether it’s a conflict between nations or individuals, ultimately “We’ll all just end up buried underneath the burning ruins”.
He’s joined by Rosie Sales for the slow swaying and slightly Lennon-like piano ballad duet ‘Cocoon’, another love song with its pledge of support (“I hope I’ve never put you down and left you feeling small/All I want is to lift you up, make you feel 10 feet tall/I’ll wrap you up in bubble wrap and keep you safe and warm/And every day I’ll be by your side so you’ll never feel alone/I’ll watch you grow into a butterfly, you can fly us both back home”) that comes with a noodling mid-section electric guitar solo before Swales makes her entrance.
With its drum, ringing guitars and crashing piano notes, ‘Driving in the Dark’ is another rockier number, returning to the theme of casting off lethargy (“all my bottles have run dry. I drank them up to dull a sombre state of mind/The land’s thousand shades of gray, the painter’s palette, getting darker day by day”) and seeking to move on (“Chase the Sun/Break the mould/Leave this town, get yourself free from the cold”).
Another bluesy track with some jazzy piano behind the electric guitar, delivered with a growly vocal to match, the unsettling ‘Raised By Man’ flies the autobiographical introspection self-loathing flag (“I was born into a battle between two fragile people/But I didn’t know that until now/Raised under the battlements of volatile relationships/I only wish I’d known what I know now”) with its digging into the roots of toxic masculinity (“in the back of my mind there’s a violence deep inside and it’s begging me to let it out to play…I’m a wolf, I was raised by man/I’ve got blood on the palms of my hands/There’s a rage, that don’t understand…I was made to walk, made to talk, made to work, made of dirt/I was made to look a lot like you/But under the surface is a hunger and a worthlessness/I know I’ll never really be like you”).
The final two tracks look to strike a balance in self-examination and becoming a better man. The slow walking ‘Your Life Is OK’ with its pedal steel and Neil Young meets Lennon influences is about dealing with anxiety (“Try not to worry, you’ll give yourself a heart attack/You know you’re made of stronger stuff”) with the self-reassuring “your life is OK/It’s beautiful in fact” , and “You gotta try to focus on good things in life, no matter how hard that seems/No doubt, in time, you’ll begin to look at life in a new light, from a different point of view”. And finally, there’s the stripped back, intimate acoustic quiet gospel ‘Forgetting Paradise’, opening with the confession “I’ve been drifting away from who I am/I’ve been worried, is this what it takes to be a man?” but moving to the hope that, while “You might never know where you’re going/You might never know where to start/When there’s ten thousand miles between you/and the place that heals your heart”, there’s still hope that “It’s not impossible/It’s not inaccessible”, as he reverses the lines to “You don’t have to know where you’re going/You don’t have to know where to start” to find paradise regained. Warm listening and a useful therapy session at the same time.
Artist’s website: www.benstubbsmusic.com
‘Light Of My LIfe’ – official video:
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