The Longer I Leave It – Declan Bennett
Record:BREAKUP Live And Acoustic
57 min • CovBoy Records • August 19, 2013
Little Bastard reviews
When I was growing up I found it hard to truly identify with any pop stars. The men all sang about women, even if they were gay, and the women were, well, women, so despite singing about men that’s usually where my ability to identify with them ended. Growing up, my only role models in the public eye were the mostly camp gay men on TV, and I really didn’t know how to grow up as a gay man – until I realised I didn’t have to. Being a gay man was no different to being a straight man, in essence, and that took a long time to work through. If I’d had more gay men like Will Young and Declan Bennett in the music scene during my teenage years I’d have had a much easier time learning I didn’t need to conform to a stereotype.
Declan Bennett first caught my attention in the boyband Point Break. Originally I liked the fact he had braids like “the guy from Korn” (I was a bit of a metal head at the time) but I wasn’t keen on their music, or the fact that the band was made up of Declan along with two cast members of Byker Grove (PJ and Duncan they were not.) Just before his exit from the band, I remember seeing them on some shitty pop music gig at the Millenium Dome in Cardiff, wearing black nail varnish (something I used to do frequently) and thinking “Ok, this guy’s cool” A few years later, I found one of their songs on a minidisc a mate made me, and decided to google Declan, and discovered his first album The Painters Ball, recorded under the moniker “Sumladfromcov”, and I devoured it like a person starved of culture. The two albums that followed, An Innocent Evening Of Drinking and Record:Breakup, further solidified Declan in my mind as the saviour of adult pop. Both albums contained beautiful but radio ready melodies and heart wrenching but intelligent lyrics, the last album Record:Breakup, being a sprawling rock commentary on how it feels to be a gay man who priorities love over lust, but acknowledges the lust all the same.
So, I was at the recording of this Live and Acoustic album, as the guest of a lovely friend, (I think you can actually hear me “Woo” after ‘The Longer I Leave It’…tragic!) and having loved Record:Breakup I was interested to hear what these beautiful songs would sound like acoustically, and I was presently surprised at how well they stand up without the lo-fi pop production of the original album.
Declan’s influences seep out of every chord of his music, the shades of Damien Rice and Ani Difranco becoming even more obvious when the songs are stripped to their naked glory. The influence of the latter is especially evident on the alt folk of ‘The Longer I Leave It’, which in its original form was an angst ridden stream of Patti Smith rock consciousness, and when slashed of its production becomes pure DiFranco beat poetry, in the most flattering way possible.
Elsewhere, ‘Kidnapped’ showcases his stunning ear for melody, and the lyrical genius of pop rock song Taxidermy, my personal favourite, is allowed to shine through in the stripped back arrangement.
You’re safe in your place,
Above my fireplace.
So everyone can see,
My new interest in taxidermy –
The songs here sometimes offer a completely different aspect from the much heavier production on the album. For instance ‘Cinema’, previously a song full of hand clap beats and a wash with electric guitar, is given a more melancholy and focused feel. It’s also missing the film quotes that permeated the original recording, notably from Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.
The recording session felt like a private concert, a handful of people stuffed into an air conditioned recording studio on a scorching summer day, and a lot of Declan’s banter between songs has been left in, most notably an innuendo made by guitarist Gareth O’Connor on hearing the title of the (beautiful and totally not filthy) song ‘Straight In Your Face’. “I hope there’s no subtext there….” Causing ripples of laughter through the small, invited audience. It’s a couple of well placed moments like this that manage to keep the album as much fun to listen to as it was to be part of.
I could talk about the genius of Declan’s lyrics and his hook laden melodies all day, but nothing is as emotionally naked as penultimate track ‘Freer’, a song I first heard back in 2008 when Declan performed it at the album launch for An Innocent Evening Of Drinking. The catalyst for the entire album, I remember being struck at the time by how vulnerable he sounded as he sang the refrain –
I’d feel freer,
If you were handcuffed to me –
– but also how strong you’d have to be to lay yourself that bare, to give that much of yourself to your art and tell the world what you probably can’t say to the one person you should. Hearing ‘Freer’ live again, the memories of that heartfelt performance came flooding back. Fuck Lady Gaga and her ridiculously painted face, THIS is Art Pop.
Throughout my life, its been rare to find anyone whose lyrics I identify with as much as these. Me and Declan are the same age, and emotionally he seems to have lived a lot of my life, and that makes me connect with his songs on a level that I’ve hardly ever known. How he’s not a household name still astounds me, so I suggest you all turn yourselves onto him now, while he’s still self releasing music and playing tiny venues. Mark my words, one day he’ll be huge, and the whole world will he enjoying his pieces of acoustic pop art. Till then, it’s all ours, and you can thank me later.