Richard Dawson – 2020

Richard Dawson – 2020

Friday, 11 October 2019, 9.00am

Richard Dawson’s 6th solo album, released 11 October 2019 on the Weird World label.




James Camien Mc...
Masterpiece of small hopes

Why I gave the above rating: 

‘2020’ is a slippery and misshapen beast. Some of Dawson’s melodies sound like nursery music, which are then squashed awkwardly alongside distorted acoustic guitars, unplaceable synth sounds, and lyrics about such things as sighting a UFO in an Aldi car park. You are constantly unsettled, even though ‘2020’ is actually relatively conventional by Dawson’s standards. Some of the musical choices, to be sure, are enchanting, and have the comfortable groove of conventional folk or rock: but there’s always something off, and you’re never sure the whole texture won’t collapse. The album is superb from start to finish, but there’s one moment in particular that’s been going through my head for the last few months, and which epitomises a lot of the subtler strangenesses of the album.

‘Civil Servant’ recounts a day in the life of an employee of the UK Department for Work and Pensions who despises his job (‘I can’t listen any more to the bleating of the terminally depressed’). The story, as most of the stories of ‘2020,’ is told through the protagonist talking directly to us, but who exactly the speaker and audience are is not always clear. There are often moments where the voice sounds more like Dawson’s than his characters’. This tension underlies a lot of the subtle strangeness of the album, and it is particularly pronounced in ‘Civil Servant.’

For instance, there’s the lyric ‘In my bed I can hear the strangled voices / Of all the people I failed,’ which has a poetic eloquence not characteristic of the protagonist, who tends to speak in more concrete terms—for instance, ‘I don’t want to go into work this morning / I just want to lie here and play the new Call of Duty.’ In the last few lines, the tension comes to a head. The protagonist calls in sick: ‘I’m not coming in to work today, I’m really ill / Not coming into work today, or for that matter any other day / I’m sick to my soul / I refuse to do this filthy work any more / I refuse, refuse, refuse, refuse / refuse, refuse, refuse.’

Dawson screams out these words—especially ‘refuse’—in a piercing falsetto, and reinforces the point by a heavy-metal pounding in the band. It’s the sound of something breaking. Perhaps the protagonist’s mind, breaking down and screaming ‘refuse’ down the phone line to a nonplussed line manager, who puts the phone on speaker so that everyone in the office can laugh at this sadsack losing his mind in real time?

You see something like this callousness for a moment of ‘Fulfilment Centre,’ but cruelty is not what we hear in ‘Civil Servant.’ Here, we are in the protagonist’s mind, and from this vantage, there’s nothing pathetic about the refusal. What’s breaking here is the protagonist’s *life*, but it’s a life that is killing him anyway; and the protagonist is breaking it himself, in a moment of genuine freedom. This is the thread that ties together ‘2020.’ It’s a brutal album, telling story after story of people being crushed by parental expectations, mental illness, climate change, exploitative employment practices. None of them get free, but none of them are beat just yet. The year 2020 promises to be just as brutal, so ‘2020’ might be the soundtrack we need.

Jan 9, 2020

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