STEVE LOGAN – Psych Ward (SLOG 027)

Psych WardFirst things first: Psych Ward isn’t folk. Apart from the odd track, Logan largely left that behind a few albums ago. It’s pretty damn good though.

Press play and you’re instantly hit by a rock-band explosion accompanying Logan’s vocal. Psych Ward is perhaps more of a Neil-Young-cum-Manic-Street-Preachers arrangement than his earlier incarnation of Neil Young-cum-Free. Whereas his previous albums had at least a couple of folk (ish) tracks on them, I think I’d describe this as having ten (out of ten) rock tracks.

The sound is both rich and tight-knit – Logan playing guitars, bass, keyboards, harmonica, with further support from James Hargreaves (also the Producer) on guitars, keyboards, programming and effects and Nigel Elliott driving the pace on drums. I’ve written ‘rich’ because of the layers on the recording, but there’s also the rawness to the songs that Logan gets when he’s on top form – partly the lead guitar that sometimes spits, partly the drums, all held together by Logan’s vocal which delivers his imagery-laden lyrics with both the ferocious tone of a punk poet and the melodic sense of a top 40 rock record.

Take ‘Orwell’. It opens with birds twittering, spoken prose from (I think I recognise) Nineteen Eighty-Four, the drone of a single note in the background –  and then a Beatle/Byrd-esque lead guitar break moving into a rock melody as the band comes in … and the lyric, “His prose was purple to begin with/Then he made it clearer than/The tall unsmiling windowpanes/Of a London comprehensive”.  These lyrics shouldn’t work with this style of music, but Logan forges them into song. Both lyrically and musically, Psych Ward is on a par with 2017’s Backstreets of Eden. Like any good rock music, you could be with mates and strangers on a long night in a late-opening cellar bar deafened to the words and beerily roaring along with the sound.

But the lyrics are worth a shot as well. Psych Ward – well, to know what Logan thinks, you only have to look at the album cover – is an album for our times. The songs were initiated at the end of 2019, then crafted, separately, during lockdown, then forged (I’ll use the word again) into a whole over the next couple of years to create an album released just before Christmas 2023.

There are ten tracks, lyrics full of images, the sense of which you think you capture, but then re-frame when you hear it again. Some lyrics are plain, some as packed as seeing petals on a wet, dark bough.

The notes that come with the album pose the question “Are we, in the West, for all our relative freedom, more troubled and unhappy now than ever? Psych Ward … expresses, probes and questions the feeling, increasingly common since TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, that the world is having a breakdown. Drugs, knife crime, social media sharing, the collapse of industry and community….”

Look again at the album cover, the eyes, the mouth, the picture of distress. Listen again to the songs, closely and soberly, there are some great lines.

Perhaps the overarching one for me, seemingly at the heart of the album, is on ‘Simple Pleasures’:

Hope lies half dead … my blinded soul weeps in the hanging gardens of despair”.

Some listens I hear ‘half dead’ as a sign of despair, and others as a sign of optimism; but every time I listen, I hear it as a sign of discord between what is and what should/might be.

‘Rock Star Slideshow’ considers celebrity; ‘The Sky Inside Your Mind’ yearns for happiness but blends Prufrock, Kings and the Waste Land in the writing “I’ve seen your tears at evening/Make a tightrope for my faith/ Fear’s shadow rises up to meet me/ In the beauty of your face”. ‘Jesus Is My Vaccine’ is the single – a phrase seen on a banner at a Trump rally in a song which contrasts the aggression seen (Jesus would have wept) with a compassionate woman who is, “delicate as starlight/Kindness fell from her hands”.

’Psych Ward’, track as well as album, is the world we live in “Funding cuts maim compassion” but there are “millions for a burnt cathedral” and “angels stand with raging torches”. ‘Dying in a Mirror’ – a long lyric but a gem of an unanswerable image at the centre of the track, “If you reflect the world is it true you must be broken?” It closes, “My loneliness is real … My loneliness is real”. ‘Empathy Baby’ tells of compassion fatigue “My heart’s become a thing of iron” and has a lovely image “My skin’s a surface [that] time is breathing fire on”.

Remember these are rock songs, more rock than, say, ‘Desolation Row’ but even so you can feel not just Pound and Eliot fighting in Logan’s mind, but Verlaine, Rimbaud and a succession of other modernists and surrealists.

From ‘Empathy Baby’ we move to our need for a ‘Shield of Achilles’, a challenge to today’s values, “What’s the use of a backstage pass or a table at Annabel’s/If your heart is slowly murdered by your ego”.

I was going to write that the album finishes with ‘Finally’ and the line “Finally finally I’ll go out of my mind with love”. Except it doesn’t. Or at least it doesn’t if you have the CD. Psych Ward, the album by Steve Logan, ends with a knowing image of a billposted slogan, two slogans, in fact:

Don’t trust slogans – S Logan


Is it an album of half-hope? Half-despair? Both? Dunno. It’s a rock album that, as any good piece of art should, makes you think. Play it, feel it, see what you think.

There are no gigs on the website, but you can get a feel for the creation of the album, particularly, ‘Jesus Is My Vaccine’, in the latter half of the video from Rockfield studios.

Mike Wistow


Recording at Rockfield:

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