Henry Priestman – The Chronicles Of Modern Life (2008)
I bought this album shortly after it was released and it quickly became one of my favourite albums of the year. Like a songwriting cross between Ray Davies and Malcolm Middleton with slightly Jaggeresque vocals, “The Chronicles Of Modern Life” is a brilliantly written, captivating listen which comments on and, more than often, protests against all of the trappings of modern life, such as redundancy (“Don’t You Love Me No More”), getting old (“Old”, “Grey’s The New Blonde”), relationships (the self-deprecating “What You Doin’ With Me”, “He Ain’t Good Enough For You”) and corporate, homogeneous life (“No To The Logo”, “It’s Called A Heart”). Although the lyrical theme of this release is slightly world weary and cynical – Priestman is certainly a grumpy old man – the subjects are tackled with humour, wit and a knowing wisdom, so it is never anything other than an uplifting and yet bitter-sweet listening experience. The music is excellent as well, each toe-tapping song having a brilliant melodic hook and the style being indie/alternative rock with a slight country edge from time to time.
Born in 1955 in Hull, Priestman has been in the music business since the late 1970’s and has worked as a session musician, songwriter and record producer for other artists as well as being a member of The Christians, so it is fair to say that his début album was a long time coming, but as is often the case for albums made by those who have been in the background of the music business, quietly writing songs for years, it is an exceptional piece of work. This is virtually a one-man album, with Henry playing all of the instruments himself (with a few exceptions on selected tracks) and, with its warm, accessible feel, is a real joy to listen to from beginning to end. Although I’m sure that anybody could derive great enjoyment from this album, I think it will strike a particular chord with the over-thirties and those with experience of the many ups and downs life can dish out. I imagine that it will also especially appeal to those with a bit of an anti-establishment attitude, with numerous caustic observations about the sheep who follow the flock.
This album is more of a gentle, emotional, touching piece of art than anything that will set the world or the listener ablaze with passion, but the fact that it is so easy to connect with makes it a far more moving experience than most musicians will ever manage to accomplish in their lives. I try not to overuse this phrase, but Henry Priestman, together with his co-writer Tom Gilbert, have produced a real masterpiece of an album. Priestman is currently working on a new album so, thankfully, we won’t have to wait another thirty years for some new material. Whether he can write another album which so beautifully captures the experiences and trials of everyday people to such a high standard remains to be seen, but if it is even half the quality of “The Chronicles Of Modern Life” it will be well worth buying.