Saturday, 11 April 2020

'Time Thief' - The Legendary Mark Peter Savage


Here’s an album about work-life sung as sleazy and seductive synthpop. Mark Savage’s produced a previous album called ‘The Sex Singer’, and here are his musings on workaday life sung as sexily as he can. An example: ‘The Truant’ is spoken-word and slinky and should maybe something like the deadpan monologue of Grace Jones’ ‘Walking in the Rain’, but the defiance in the musings here are about avoiding work and responsibility. This is without the political edge of Savage’s ‘My New Boss’, but still raises an eyebrow at hierarchy and authority. This is for the proletariats living the dream of working with a secret agenda of indifference in capitalist mundanity. It sounds sultry, but the main theme is shirking work while on the job.

“I’m not here for the money/I’m not here for the show/ I’m here to mess around until it’s time to go,” he sings on ‘Time Thief’, the point where the album launches from low-key trip-hoppy ambience into full electropop vibe. He may be crooning “I’ve got gentle hands,” on ‘Gentle Hands’ but it’s alluding to the toll of chores rather than a come-on. It’s an amusing gag. There is always a little affectation to Savage’s work, a definite persona, but it’s knowing, smart and witty, full of literacy and as much self-mocking as self-regard in its pose. It’s the attitude of rebellion but kept under collar of the job attire.

Savage croons over the wide-open spaces generated by synthesisers and heavy reverb, the kind reminiscent of Suicide – but there’s more of a lounge lizard than punk agenda here. He often sounds as if he’s unexpectedly stumbled into the song and feels the urge to pontificate, pointedly but understatedly. It’s full of the beeps, pulses, keyboard crescendos and diminuendos that make electronic music so appealing. But there are also guitars underpinning ‘Captain of Storytime’. The album is an entire experience: let it ebb and flow for its full length. It often drifts off into keyboard ambience, but then it knows to launch into something like a seaside organ riff for ‘Gentle Hands’. And throughout, Savage pleasantly and drolly croons, verging upon and then sometimes fully committing to spoken word.

And so it ends with a wry, mostly spoken magic-realism tale of a character that retired as a boy – ‘The Retired Kid’ – that captures the sense of wanting to be older when you’re young and wanting to be younger when you’re old. Here’s a character that didn’t have to go through the games of shirking off work to kill hours until it’s time to finish. But then he says, “People tell me I might be tough when I’m twenty-one and all my friends are dead,” it brings into focus the kind of unquantifiable loss that defines old age.

It’s a delightfully surreal, unsettling and amusing finale to an album that shows a deft touch with its track listing, observations and genre form. The album as a whole feels lush, soothing, sardonic, entertaining, confident and demanding of your attention.

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