The War On Peace of Mind
Dianne Swann’s debut solo album is the “lockdown project” that was 35 years in the making. That the end-result is just eight songs (30 minutes) speaks to not only a lack of ego but to a love of music from a specific era, from growing up and through the time when 8-song albums were the norm (the 70s and into the 80s) – it is a reminder, too, of the careful and considered approach, the quality-control that has been a hallmark of Swann’s recorded career across various bands and as a contributor to so many projects – not a note is wasted.
Swann might be one of the country’s greatest singers. Selfless but also ever ready to add the line that melts you. There as part of the female supergroup, When The Cat’s Away, leading many of her own projects (Everything That Flies, Julie Dolphin, Boom Boom Mancini) and providing live backing vocals for Tim Finn one minute, recording with Greg Johnson the next; there’s the small matter too of The Bads, the band she and partner Brett Adams (The Mockers) established after they returned from their time in the UK. There, with Julie Dolphin and Mancini they were establishing themselves, making great music and many huge impacts – they toured with Radiohead and Swann was invited into the studio to sing BVs with the band and onto the stage to play some keyboards. So the next time you feel the urge to scoff at an overplayed cover of Melting Pot on the radio remember not only the vitality of every person involved in that recording but also that only one of them worked with Radiohead. But where was I, The Bads: Bruised and broken country-pop that rebuilds itself with the spare parts of indie-rock, nearly a half dozen albums that deserve wider recognition, songwriting vehicle for both Swann and Adams, strong live shows and the malleability to be the backing band for Tim Finn or Don Walker or to share the stage with, well anyone.
All of this singing that Swann has done is always in support of the song. She will do the BVs in the all-star line-up that pays tribute to Joni Mitchell or Neil Young or The Beatles and she will be great at it. But she’s also there plugging away in the Tower of Song, chiselling out her own creations.
Now, finally, she steps out under her own name and we have the definitive collection, the (very) definite article.
Leading a band of friends and stalwarts (Chris O’Connor and Tom Broome handling the drums, Dave Khan with strings and keys, Ben King on bass and some guitars) Swann is out front with the guitar and voice and these great, great songs. And when your partner in life and music just happens to be the best guitarist in the country of course you’re going to let him shred out the equivalent of a Nels Cline-in-Wilco guest guitar solo on the opener, These Are The Days. And Adams’ star turn has full power and impact but the song itself is the star. With a bar-room bluesy swagger, Swann tells a MeToo story about (and for) the environment, about the way we’ve used and abused the earth – but“she’s fighting back” – that is tone-setting for a survivor’s story as well as being this casual showcase for the super-great band gathered here to back these fine songs.
Show Your Heart is one of many deceptively simple grazed, urban blues songs that is married to a gorgeous pop hook. I think, most often, of those great Neil Young songs that are almost hiding (on albums like Freedom) when I listen to Swann’s songs here – and the best of her work with/as The Bads.
Reel You In and particularly Please Leave A Message could appeal to fans of the more recent Lana Del Rey work – though I imagine that as by-product rather than any secret intent by the author here. And the near title track, Losing The War On Peace Of Mind is the penultimate track and quite possibly the snapshot, the business card – such a perfect pop song that is crammed with vital performances but arranged so beautifully as to let everything breathe, and to let everything shine.
The closer, Rare Good Feeling, is the most rocking of the songs, with an urgent riff to pull you in and it’s one of several tunes here that makes me want to link Swann to Tanya Donnelly. There’s something in the way their voices operate that’s similar, there’s also something in their stories that feels linked too – Donnelly growing up and through bands before eventually stepping out solo. But also both of them leading instinctively with their voices but you listen deeply and realise these are songwriters first and foremost. Songwriters that just happen to be fantastic singers. Fantastic singers that are also excellent musicians, guitarists with great capacity for the hooks that hold songs up for display; tunesmiths that have been raised on all the great – and correct – music and then moved through many phases of music themselves, in order to be able to make these wise choices. These are wise choices earned through hard slog. That’s the thing I feel most when I listen to the eight songs here. They’re borne of hard work, devotion, dedication to the craft. They’re the songs Swann wanted to share – and we’re so lucky to have them. And to have her.
This has been a long time in the making and it’s worth your time. She’s one of our great talents and perhaps we’ve left her languishing in support rather than helping to provide the platforms for this star-turn. No matter, it’s here now and it’s fabulous. Buy this record. Listen to it lots. Tell everyone you know that one of our best new songwriters has been there in the background doing it all along. And the best proof of all of that is right here. Right now.