Piano Magic – Closure

Piano Magic - Closure

Piano Magic – Closure

Although 2012’s Life Has Not Finished With Me Yet was to have been Piano Magic’s swansong LP, its title hid a get-back-together clause in plain sight.  With leader Glen Johnson having recently endured the end of a long-term relationship and the death of his father, the need for expansive catharsis that potentially only Piano Magic could channel, has reunited the group for one last album.  Featuring Johnson re-joined by most of the latter-day band line-up (Jerome Tcherneyan, Alasdair Steer and Franck Alba) and a few choice guests, the more affirmatively named Closure captures Piano Magic bowing-out in stinging and serene form.

An intentionally song-based affair, with no instrumental interlude pieces, which unpicks its lyrical and sonic details via astutely crafted settings, Closure refracts the heart-reflecting songwriting themes of Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear, Lee Hazlewood’s Requiem For An Almost Lady and even The Afghan Whigs’ Gentlemen through the prism of Piano Magic’s enigmatic allure, with consistently strong if challenging results.

The opening title-track sets out the album’s emotional stall with grand sprawling intent, as a sort of sequel to “No Closure” from 2000’s still-essential Artists’ Rifles.  The ten-minute cut stitches together stylistic threads from the wardrobes of Dead Can Dance, Joy Division and early-Tortoise, through which Johnson intones potent lines such as “Let’s shut the lid on this/Let’s move this rock and seal this cave/’Cos this show has over-run,” as he stalks around his own hurt-formed landscaping.  Contrastingly, the ensuing shorter “Landline” has a more limber groove, wherein chiming and shimmering guitars entwine around Johnson’s allegorical ruminations on friendships faded and remembered like close-to-obsolete technology.  In its wake, the balmy electro-framed “Exile” peers somewhat uncomfortably into the still open wounds of Johnson’s lost love (“I’ve been tempted to turn up/Unannounced like a ghost/But I know I’m not welcome/I know the options are closed”) before bleeding into the guitar-churning “Let Me Introduce You”, which unpeels as a Morrissey-like slice of eloquent begrudgement of passing-through acquaintances.

Having perhaps taken us a little too far into his still self-purging inner-sanctum, the second half of Closure has a slightly more universally-reaching warmer tone.  Whilst “Living For Other People” is hardly light in the wordplay department, it does find Johnson reaching some kind of rapprochement with his new-found singleton-status (“I’m not attached to my attachments/I’m not obliged to tow the line”) over stirringly evocative cello embellishments courtesy of Audrey Riley (whose past credits include session work with The Go-Betweens, The Cure and The Smiths), piano and organ from returning Popular Mechanics-era Piano Magic member Paul Tornbohm and Tcherneyan’s prowling drums.  Whilst initially “You Never Stop Loving (The One That You Loved)” seems to revisit the same angles of the struggling-to-let-go conceptualism, it actually appears to find Johnson finding some way forward through learning to accept that the romantic pain may never quite go away.  Musically, the song is mirrored by an arrangement that unfurls in a pretty and uplifting fashion, led by more of Riley’s commanding cello lines and some dainty vibraphone trilling from Tornbohm.

Proceedings take a slight detour with a visiting lead vocal spot from Peter Milton Walsh of Australian legends The Apartments on “Attention To Life”.  A co-write between Walsh and Johnson, the song is relayed from the point of view of a married man singing to his hedonistic mistress, whilst the extended ensemble – boosted by some probing hired-in trumpet from the happily ubiquitous Oliver Cherer (Dollboy, The Assistant et al.) – poke into the same orchestrated territory as John Grant at it his most lugubrious and ornate.  The collection closes with “I Left You Twice, Not Once”, with Johnson back to the fore over a wistful baroque backing to repeat the couplets of “I left you twice, not once/The first time passed unnoticed/For you still lay in my arms/I could not bear to say goodbye”, with an acquiescent almost-Shakespearian sadness.

Closure leaves plenty of questions unanswered; particularly over whether this really is the end of Glen Johnson’s current bout of emotional expunging and whether this is truly the final studio outing from Piano Magic.  But that is perhaps the point of the whole thing.  Life and love don’t have neat beginnings or endings and we can waste too much time trying to tie-up things that could be left a little undone.  However, Closure is undoubtedly a reliably contrarian, brutally honest and uncompromisingly human album for a great band to – at least try – calling it quits on.

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