System Fault – Aidan Jolly

  • What an interesting way to subvert your listener’s expectations: start your album with one of the weaker tracks. Fire starts of like a mid-1970s’ rock track with fine, gentle musicianship, bubbling Ray Manzarek-style keyboards, and then the vocals come in. Aidan Jolly is more of a spoken word man, in his decidedly non-mid-Atlantic way, than a singer, and Fire is a paean to the wonder of fire. At least it doesn’t go for the ‘higher’ rhyme. The following track is an ode to seamen and dockers and, with its violins, has a polished folk feel. This is more representative of the themes on this, the first solo release from Jolly. There are big messages here and around half of the lyrics deal with subjects such as oppression, racism, slavery, the third world and human dignity. Occasionally the music is hammered into submission to serve the message, and the result is a lumpy mess such as the cod-ska Dennis The Menace, which is unfortunate as it is an (always apt) warning about racism. When Jolly gets it right, on Skin, for example, the result is something quite wonderful. It’s an exploration of the possible meanings of its title, and is reminiscent of Sons Of Shiva, a Hugh Cornwell project that combined music with the spoken poetry of Sex W. Johnston.

    Jolly’s managed a rare thing; he’s got a distinctive feel, but no two songs are the same. The second half of the album is stronger than the first. History has Garfield guesting on vocals on a subtly smooth R&B number, and Landfall is threaded with African rhythms. It’s then followed by (Untitled)which is a solely percussive track and all of them feed perfectly into the next. (By the way – how annoying is it when someone calls a track ‘untitled’? Why, for God’s sake? What’s the excuse? Slap anything on it. Think of Frank Zappa. Give your paying audience that much, at least.) The weird thing is, (Untitled) is merely the rhythm track of the song that follows it, another folk-shanty called, marginally more imaginatively, Sea Song. The last song listed on the album is I Wish You Joy, a gentle, slight, acoustic guitar song that would make a good, natural closer. It’s not, though. There’s a hidden track stuck on at the end that mocks a certain novel-writing politician, and displays some fine blues guitar while it’s at it.

    It’s a curious album. Imagine Billy Bragg if punk had never happened, and you’re some of the way there. And Jolly is a bloody fine guitarist, even if he rarely rocks out. The album’s a grower. After a couple plays, Fire, for example, ceases to be lyrically annoying. The potential has been replaced by the reality of it, and we’re left with a song that drifts across us with some lovely overdriven guitar that’s beautifully mixed down into the whole. There are a dozen tracks here. You’re bound to be intrigued by some of them.