Drifting from my usual review format, I will dive straight into a review of Johnny Flynn’s album as opposed to providing a short synopsis of his life. If you wish to read about Johnny Flynn’s early career, please find my earlier post on his album: ‘A Larum’.
Now that is sorted, on with the review.
Despite critics suggesting Sillion is merely a continuation of Johnny Flynn’s previous work, his new album does sound slightly different to his earlier releases. With Sillion, the singer chooses to embrace more readily the ‘rock’ aspect of ‘folk rock’, with nobody being able to accuse his album of being ‘too twee’. The result of this is the release of Flynn’s most accessible album yet. Whilst some of Flynn’s earlier music wouldn’t seem out of place in the set listing of a band of fiddlers (people who play fiddles – nothing else), new songs like ‘Raising the Dead’ are catchy in a different way to the standout tracks on the artist’s previous albums (i.e. The Box), seemingly fitting more closely with the alternative music scene featured in magazines like Mojo and Uncut.
Whilst released as a solo album, Sillion was once again recorded with the help of Flynn’s default backing musicians (known as The Sussex Wit). As well as the usual bill, Flynn is joined on his album by a couple of new musicians: Cosmo Sheldrake (musician and teacher with a moderate following), and The Wave Picture‘s David Tattersall (whose band has gained national recognition in the last couple of years). The influence of Tattersall may well have been a moderating force during the recording of the album, explaining the lack of country undertones.
The album itself, whilst sounding slightly different to Flynn’s earlier discography, maintains the same serious nature. ‘Raising The Dead‘ is a song regarding the death of his father and the birth of his daughter, and about seeing similarity between those who have passed and those who enter our lives later. Similarly ‘Jefferson’s Torch’ could quite easily be interpreted response to the current tense climate. ‘Heart Sunk Hank’ is an ode to what can be assumed to be an imaginary character, but is heartfelt nonetheless. Interestingly, this song possesses undertones of Gene Clark’s ‘Strength of Strings’, with Flynn mirroring Clark’s technique of harmonising with the guitar at times in the song. Maybe we can add The Byrds to the short list of influences we do have for Johnny Flynn.
At points, the album feels like it is losing direction. However, it doesn’t manage to stray far before another good song puts it back on track. There are notably more fillers on the latter half of the album, but songs like ‘Jefferson’s Torch’, and ‘Hard Road’ arguably make up for this. ‘Hard Road’ was the perfect closing track to the album, tying the album together, and clearly marking its end.
Flynn’s subtle shift in musical influence is a welcome change, and we can pray that his next album mirrors this. The only hope is that next time he manages to combine this with a greater track consistency – removing entirely the small number of fillers he insists of positing in every album he releases. I’m sure if we ever see Flynn take a break from his acting career to focus on music, we will surely see this happen, and his career take of in the same fashion as Laura Marling.
The 24th of March was a good day for Transgressive Record; four stars all round.
Artist: Johnny Flynn
Label: Transgressive Records
Release date: March 24, 2017
Play time: 45 mins
Standout track: Raising the Dead