Article by KevW
To look at things in a rather simplistic way, some albums are collections of songs that vary in theme, some work on a set concept, perhaps even act as a journey, and others, while not necessarily being being based around a concept as such, consist of tracks that are influenced by a specific event or subject. When Johny Nocash, an experienced songwriter and musician who's released music under different guises including The Irony Board, Echolalia and Broken Down Lorry, and describes himself humorously as someone who's "consistently failed to make a career out of music", came up against writer's block, he struggled to figure out why at first ("something doesn't seem right, but I can't make out..." - 'I Once Had A Dream But I'm All Right Now'), before realising that it was down to a depression he'd fallen into. He describes this in a recent interview with In Bed With Maradona as a "trough", one which he's thankfully now come through.
During this period, he discovered the charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), a relatively new charity that supports men with mental health issues. The biggest killer of men aged between twenty and forty-five in the UK is suicide, and when you're in that position yourself you can feel isolated, helpless and misunderstood. After learning that an average call to this charity cost £7, The Broken Heed project was launched as Johny decided to document his own struggle by making "the most personally honest album [he's] written", and donate every penny made from its release (which was launched with a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to get the project off the ground) to CALM in the hope of helping them take more calls. In a week where the Labour party has criticised the Tory party for failing to deliver the mental health care they promised pre-election (the Tories deny this), and in which Morrissey talked candidly about his own battle with the "black dog" of depression on US TV, provoking a statement from the Samaritans in disagreement with his views that taking your life can be "admirable", 'The Broken Heed's release is a timely one.
If you're expecting a set of songs that are all doom and gloom then you'd be wrong. Yes, 'The Broken Heed' tackles a serious subject in an open and honest way, but it's not without humour and certainly not without beauty. Tender, piano-led opener 'The Felling Of The Oak' has a self-explanatory title, expressing the surprise that even the tallest and strongest of people can fall, even when no one, including themselves, saw it coming. 'Funny Little Things' sounds incredibly downbeat, but listening to the lyrics, it describes how, when in such a position, there are small and surprising aspects of life that can give you a lift, even if its minor and temporary; it explores the beauty of nature and life itself, as if it's almost obtuse that such tiny events can make a difference. Sonically, you'd likely call 'The Broken Heed' a lo-fi album, and this helps make the tunes that much more personal and quirky. 'Haemorrhaging Endorphins' sums this up well, with its playful piano and samples of a woman telling you that "smiling produces endorphins in your brain". It's one of the strangest songs here but also lightens the tone nicely, before more poignant and personal stories are told, and really, some of the lyrics are strikingly sad and will resonate with anyone who's been in a similar situation.
'Find A Hill And Climb It' is particularly heartfelt, with washes of synth and a twinkling piano giving a majestic quality to words that feel as though they're being sung by someone who's reached the end and can't even find the tunnel, let alone the light at the end of it. Yet it's a gorgeous highlight. Maybe the line that hits home the most is simply "all I need is someone on my side, who can unweave the mess on the inside" from the open-hearted 'This Song's For Us'. It's maybe the most personal number of all and encapsulates that feeling of loneliness and the difficulty of getting others to understand what's going on in your head. This is followed by the beautiful pop of 'How To Be A Man' which is maybe more accessible due to its relatively upbeat, melodic, indiepop nature, but every one of these ten tracks is touching and startlingly pretty considering the subject matter. The aforementioned 'I Once Had A Dream...' examines how relationships can be affected: "you don't know if I'm the person you want me to be... I don't know if I'm the person I wanted to be". It's gut-wrenching to anyone who's been in a similar position. 'North And South' explores the difficulty, and even the taboo nature, of such states of mind: "someone needs to talk but they can't let go" because people often have little sympathy for "what is just biology".
The Broken Heed isn't a fabulous record because it's for a good cause. Were it a regular release with no back-story, these songs are still achingly personal, soul-baring, tenderly beautiful and will contain lyrics that everyone can relate to to a certain degree. There have been many albums that deal with sadness and heartbreak, but not many hit the mark as accurately as this does, and even fewer are so genuine. If a four leaf clover brings luck, then a five leaf clover must be extra-special, but in the song of that title it just gets crushed by the hand that holds it, as overlaying lyrics capture the confused state of mind that can occur as thoughts rush back and forth in a frenzy as you fight to regain what you once had. Finally, 'Not Waving' is a haunting, reverb-heavy analysis of a "broken head" that once more manages to convey emotion in such a powerful and accurate way. It would be easy to give Johny Nocash a pat on the back and commend him for doing his bit for a charity that helped him, but he's done much more than that. Writing this music may have acted as a form of therapy as he battled his own demons, and listening to it could do likewise for others going through a dark period in their life. Rarely has raw emotion been committed to tape in such a way: 'The Broken Heed' isn't full of lush production and hundreds of musicians, it doesn't need to be. Adversity has given rise to some of the greatest music of all time, and while this may not be the best set of songs you'll ever hear, there's no denying that, regardless of motives or your own personal frame of mind, it's a wonderful, wonderful collection.
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