Christopher Owens shows flashes of inspiration in the mostly mundane A New Testament
Incessantly labelled as the ex-frontman of U.S. indie duo Girls, it seems Christopher Owens is intently focused on forging a name for himself as a solo musician. Not long after the release of Girls’ second album Father, Son, Holy Ghost, Owens announced that he was leaving the band in pursuit of a solo career. He was picked up by Fat Possum Records in 2012 before releasing the curiously ephemeral flute-laden Lysandre last year, his first release as a solo artist and a clear departure from the sombre jangle which had facilitated his ascension to cult status indie sweetheart.
Just by looking at the leather vest, pink cowboy hat and wry smile Owens sports on the cover of A New Testament, one can tell that this is yet another new direction, one seemingly headed toward a life of sanguinity, security and sobriety, clean from drugs for the first time in his adult life. If Lysandre was like a child learning how to walk, then A New Testament is its slightly older self attempting to ride a bike: further developed but more or less the same, still not exactly sure what it’s doing without any help.
This is corroborated immediately from the opening passages of opener “My Troubled Heart”, setting the album’s tone straight away both musically and lyrically with clean guitar tones, uplifting gospel hymns and whimsical musings of heartbreak and despondency. It’s enjoyable and refreshing up until the next track begins, in which the exciting and gratifying become vapid and banal, and the U.S. county fair that the music transports you to begins to settle down and dissipate. In truth, A New Testament gets repetitive and stale pretty quickly, and this is its main downfall. Too many cliché musical and lyrical phrases permeate the album, and with its entire running time standing at barely half an hour, Owens hasn’t a great deal of time to produce anything extraordinary.
There are of course flashes of brilliance and inspiration, with a couple of shimmering slow burners (“It Comes Back To You”, “I Just Can’t Live Without You (But I’m Still Alive)”), a Wilco-esque mini epic (“Overcoming Me”) and a beautifully arranged, poignant tribute to his brother (“Stephen”) providing the album’s standout moments. But unfortunately it soon enough returns to the monotonically mundane, as Owens’ rehashed country charm and delicate arpeggiated picking begins to sounds less like Lee Hazlewood and more like Lee Kernaghan.
Much like the hand operating on the neck of the slide and pedal steel guitars that permeate the album, A New Testament’s eminence slides up, down and back again; an antithesis which makes it a difficult album to judge as a whole. Isolated, the short, twangy, doe-eyed love songs are hugely satisfying, but ordered one after the other, the album as a whole becomes much harder to enjoy. Granted, Owens is still trying to find his identity as a solo artist, but his overreaching attempts to distance himself from his earlier work have on this occasion only resulted in somewhat of a disappointment.