CHRIS CLEVERLEY – Broadcast The Secret Verse (Opiate Records 003)

Broadcast The Secret VerseI’ve been an enthusiastic follower of Chris Cleverley’s music since his debut album back in 2015. Musically speaking, Chris isn’t a man who stands still and his development has been startling which brings us to Broadcast The Secret Verse and my particular problem. I listened to it once or twice and enjoyed it but with Chris I need more, I need to know what it’s all about. He’s moved into a new realm packed with synths and some really good drums courtesy of Rob Pemberton but, to my aged ears, his voice is rather soft and the accompaniments rather more upfront than I prefer. So I asked him for a copy of the lyrics which he duly supplied – problem solved.

As the cover suggests, there is a fair amount of doom and gloom in Broadcast The Secret Verse. The opener, ‘Borderlands’ has a parent talking to a young child about hopes for the future. “Show me I’m just old and tired” he sings in the final verse which is a bit much given that he’s only thirty-something but the speed of life and change is a recurrent theme. Although the song starts with the drifting sound of a synth it is the acoustic guitar that dominates.

One of the singles taken from the album, ‘Chlorophyll’, returns to the subject of change, particularly unwelcome change, and makes the point that we are responsible for bringing this change on ourselves, a theme he continues in ‘Still Life’. This, another single, was the first track I heard from the album. It opens with sharp echoey drums and synth and includes some brilliant lines: “The last tree stands in a purifying tank” and “The last dove sealed in formaldehyde”. You get the idea. Lukas Drinkwater’s bass and Graham Coe’s cello bring the track to its close.

‘Ouroboros’ is almost rock’n’roll and packed with loneliness and misery while ‘Eight Of Swords’ concerns love and depression. Chris seems to be working out some of his existential angst in these songs and the latter ends with a synthesised wind blowing into nothingness. ‘Paradise’ is about inequality – a bit political – set in an imaginary dystopian setting and a partner to ‘Still Life’ with Pemberton’s drums driving the song along. ‘Nausea’ picks up the theme of the speed of change, something I can get alongside. Words like “cosmic loneliness” and “overarching pain” leave little room for doubt as to Chris’ opinions, although the instrumental coda is remarkably upbeat in comparison.

‘Heraklion’ is described as a stream of consciousness with rather more optimism than the preceding tracks but then Chris switches to reportage with ‘The Centre Cannot Hold’, an account of the evacuation of Aleppo in 2016 and draws a comparison with current events but “Who are we to question the great ebb and flow”.

‘A Prediction Algorithm’ envisions the ultimate computer that knows everything that has happened and predict everything that will be. It reminded me immediately of Arthur C Clarke’s short story, The Nine Billion Names Of God, in which the completion of the titular task brings on the end of the universe. If we know how it all ends, why bother doing anything? Finally, ‘If I’d Have Listened’ is decidedly up-lifting as it discusses, in a positive way, mental health, a topic that Chris has dealt with before as a supporter of the charity Mind.

Broadcast The Secret Verse really plumbs the depths of human anxiety and despair and were it not for that last song I’d be worried about Chris’ state of mind. He said in an interview that the album is about “going all in and not holding back” and he has certainly achieved that. He has written some dark and hard-hitting songs and there are few enough artists capable of doing that.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website:

‘Still Life’ – official video;