Where I was a huge fan of Featherbones, Matt Langley’s previous LP, a debut that seemed to creep up, slowly opening the door and checking out the scene before introducing itself, new album Virginia Avenue is just too pleased with itself. The door bursts open and opener Told You So rides along on a jaunty rhythm with superfluous horn parps. It’s beautifully produced – it sounds great on that level – but the songs just feel like things Ryan Adams might have written and discarded.
Langley is talented – he has some strong ideas and that was very clear on his debut but Virginia Avenue is all polish and no soul. It also can’t avoid desperate cover up for going to the same well once too often.
I’ve been listening to this album heaps – trying to find a way in; trying to find a way past what almost feels like Ryan Adams plagiarism – and I can’t find that. Other people have. And that’s fair enough. But to me this is one-note writing, one set of ideas, purloined song-choices.
Ryan Adams’ Gold introduced Adams the musical magpie, after his Whiskeytown work and debut solo record here he was referencing so many things, a bit of Neil Young and Bob Dylan, a lot of Van Morrison, some Springsteen and The Who, a touch of acoustic Led Zeppelin and more than one song all but blatantly ripping off The Band. By spreading it around Adams wasn’t caught – and then he settled into his voice, his sound.
Virginia Avenue feels like Featherbones never happened; feels like Langley had a life-changing experience listening to Ryan Adams and ran straight to the kitchen to grab some grease-proof paper and a pencil.
And it saddens me to say this because I really looked forward to this record. But there’s just something missing. Too many ideas, instrumentally/arrangement-wise, thrown in to cover up songs that steal from the same source; this is not to say the treatments and the overall sonic isn’t correct – it is. They are. The production, the playing, I’ll say it again – it’s all exquisite, precise, perfect and with some breathing space too.
But it can’t cover up the source of these tunes – it can’t stop me from hearing the redundancy of this record. And as it lurches on towards the finish line, 15 songs, far too long, the record is still proudly walking around the room shaking hands and finishing drinks. And I think back to Featherbones, all coy in the corner and with something – actually – to say.
So roll on record number three Matt Langley. I hope you find the balance.