JOHN NAPIER – The Man In Me (own label)

The Man In MeA Birmingham-based singer-songwriter and half of the alt-folk Waler, Napier is steeped in a love of Paul McCartney whose influence glows throughout this terrific mini-album (though he himself cites Cohen, Adam Green, The Kinks and, er, early Kenny Rogers). He’s not the only touchstone though, conscious or otherwise. The opening riff of ‘The Exception’ suggests their creator, Andrew Souer, had a slower take on the intro to ‘Marrakesh Express’ in mind, Olly Forrester’s shuffling drums joining the acoustic guitar that carries along a number aimed at those who reckon they’re going to be the one to make a difference and “triumph where no one else has done”, pointing out the million times before others have assumed the same only to find their efforts are in vain. Essentially, a cynical song about expecting things to get better.

Wryly borrowing from the ‘Three Lions’ chorus, ‘It’s Coming Home’ is the first McCartney-tinged number, a warm psych-60s folk pop tinted scuffed swayer that kind of  continues the idea that things will just drop into our laps and everything will be fine but spun into a commentary on those who harbour  sense of superiority and privilege  (“the world belongs to us/There’s no use protesting, it’s our destiny/To sit at the top of this hierarchy/A natural order, why can’t you agree?”) with the well-rehearsed politician’s argument that the pains of change are  all for the common good (“What seems like brutality’s all done with love”).

Another evocation of 60s folk pop that musically sounds as though it might have come from some children’s TV show, ‘Not Your Enemy’ has a woodpecker clicking percussive bedrock and synth flute on a song that speaks of how people, gender, races, sexual orientation, whatever are proscribed and lumped in a single entity (“Reduced to a member of one single tribe …viewed through a prism of violence and vice…Stripped of your agency, dehumanised”) and, while admitting “there are patterns that can’t be denied”, the fact remains that “Each individual’s one of a kind”. Hence the title chorus refrain and the plea not to see foes when none exist.

Clocking at under two-minutes, the vocals mixed back but rising on the refrain a la ‘Twist And Shout’, the ‘Same Old Conversations’ takes its musical cues from the folksier strums of Revolver and maybe even Joe Brown on a number that sounds like a wry commentary on getting older and stuck in your ways (“Same old conversations, same old dumb beliefs/What the hell is happening to me?!… All there is now is tumble-weed/Who drained the colour from my dreams?”).

With a guitar line that evokes ‘I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight’, the title track kind of continues the line of thought of somehow falling short of  your expectations (“Faith tells me there is something more to me/But fate has not dealt me the hand I thought I’d see”, but still holding fast to a determination make it so (“Well I may not be the man I thought that I was s’posed to be/But I still believe the answer lies in me/Cause I made a vow so long ago that I intend to keep/And I won’t give up until the world has seen/Oh, the man in me”). It also harks back to the opener as he sings “What makes you think that you are special?/What makes you think you are the one?/When there are millions more just like you/Who think the world has got it wrong”, with the observation that “You don’t deserve it and you sure as hell ain’t earned it/Perhaps it’s time you moved along”. But it comes with an implicit faith in the capability of the individual to do something bring about some kind of revolution because “change/Is never gonna happen without me”, even if you don’t yet know how.

It ends with the near six-minute fingerpicked dislocated rhythm standout that is ‘The Dissident’,  a song addressed to those “Drunk on vicarious smugness… who think all of my yearnings/Are unpatriotic at best” and  how those who don’t conform to the majority opinion are inevitably regarded as having some personal agenda (“Passion is viewed with suspicion/As is ideology”) and that, quite frankly, they should be happy with what they’ve got and not that they’re entitled to anything more. The message to those who see themselves as “some kind of bastion/Of clear-headed rationality” is that their so-called wisdom is just a form of misanthropy, or, succinctly summed up  “The ones least concerned are the ones who think most cynically”.

The Man In Me is available via Bandcamp, along with his previous album and a clutch of EPs and singles, if you’ve not encountered him before, this could be the start of a long musical friendship.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.johnnapier.bandcamp.com

‘The Dissident’ – official live video:

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