Who Is The Sender?
When Bill Fay returned with 2012’s genuine comeback, the deeply moving Life Is People it was his first full set of new recordings in some 40 years. He tried to have a career early on, made two albums that people love now but did not buy then and he moved on. And away. And carried on with life. Gathered experiences and wrote songs for himself and worked elsewhere to support a family.
When he returned he had something to say. And he had fans that has discovered him as someone long-lost and lesser-known – he was an influence on influences. If you liked Wilco you might end up at Bill Fay for example.
So now, just a few years on from Life is People it’s perhaps less impactful to have a new Bill Fay record in the world. A shame then, that Who Is The Sender? seems – at first – like Fay playing second fiddle to himself on a protracted comeback.
A better way to view it might be in a clue the album cover hints at – more of the same sort of songs with the same sort of approach, a humble man hunkered down at the piano, and arriving at a slightly different angle.
This is also a flipside of sorts, Life is People seemed to suggest a great happiness in just living, in being here, in surviving, and enjoying what was around you, and particularly who was around you.
Where that record’s theme was summed up in the big statement of its title this album’s theme comes from the titular question. Why are we here, but more than that why are we still here and who is in charge of all this fucking up that is going on and how can we do something about it – beyond, er, writing songs…
A tough question that. Or set of questions.
And Fay’s album is the perfect homily-soundtrack for anyone so depressed that so little might ever change.
Through War Machine and How Little and the sublime Underneath The Sun (which goes in the direction Nick Caves sometimes sends his Bad Seeds, all weepy-mopey) to Something Else Ahead and Order of the Day it’s all very clear how frustrated and sad Fay is feeling. “We can’t go on like this forever” he cold-croons across Order of the Day, one of several songs denouncing war – and the various forms of it that wage themselves upon us, and that we fling ourselves into – but the big frustration, also explored here, and often, is that we of course can go on. Seemingly. We are. Some giant force of evil has us hurtling towards our grandchildren’s demise. And it’s ghastly. And if you stop to think about it too long you’ll weep. And that vulnerability is exploited – also those emotionless drones somehow know that not many will want to think about it long enough to bring on the sadness.
All of this is in Fay’s songs here. And so Who Is The Sender? might, at first, seem like the also-rans that didn’t make it onto his first comeback album, or a second effort. But this is actually a profound set of tunes. Powerful, not at all uplifting in theory, but there’s a stoicism. A Page Incomplete calls for the world to change – again, again – and its narrator seems to know that’s a call being made out to no one in the ever-giant nowhere.
A Frail And Broken One arrives right after.
It could sum up the song’s writer, this album’s artist and – wahey! – by the end of it this set of song’s audience. But none of that should be held against the grace and empathy and heart in these songs. A quiet, gentle rage. Let’s not let it die out.