The Moog synthesizer is a precise instrument, only to be handled by the most practiced of musicians, like the dumbfounding Theremin. The reason is that the Moog is an analog synthesizer; at times requiring specific turns of the dials for each note. The results can be as varied as the number of sounds that can be created. On Roger O’Donnell’s new release, The Truth in Me, his experience with such bands as The Cure and The Thompson Twins has allowed him to create a methodically complex masterwork that is the clear production of devotion. From the otherworldly trumpets of the Seraphim on “He Sent Me Angels,” to the childlike pep and sentimentality on “Treasure,” The Truth in Me provides soundtracks for the widest range of life.
Like most pianists worth the listen, O’Donnell was born into the music. Well, that’s exaggerating it a little bit. He was actually born right next to his family’s piano in East London. He grew up imitating the music greats of his time like Frank Zappa on the piano. Eventually the time came for him to graduate secondary school, leaving him with little option. He enrolled into an art school out of a bit of fear of actually working for a living. Studying music, he did local gigs for a while to earn a living in typical places. Eventually, he and a friend of his, Boris Williams, made a name for themselves when playing on tour with the Thompson Twins, despite the fact that neither of their names were Thompson (HA!). Laugh-tracks are a clever way to make tangents. After playing live for them, they both went on to play with The Cure, where he stayed for three years, leaving in 1990. He eventually rejoined in 1995. Now he has created a new label for himself emerging artists, 99X/10, or in other words, Ninety-Nine Times out of ten.
In the last years of O’Donnell’s time with The Cure, he said he was “increasingly unhappy.” He felt like he wasn’t in touch with what was supposed to be his music anymore, stating that “It seems the bigger the band the more removed you are from the actual music.” Moving to solo work was probably the best move for him as now, especially when the Moog is his instrument of choice, as he has complete control over what truly is his music. Every note has been meticulously labored over to create just the right atmosphere. His polyphonic ballads use a common rhythm, while allowing another track that is laid on top of it to improvise, as if it was never part of his cerebral construction. O’Donnell’s resident collaborator on The Truth in Me is vocalist Erin Lang, who vaguely raspy voice has a certain airy quality allowing it to float through the air like sawdust. Her voice is a perfect compliment to O’Donnell’s permeating melodies. Highlights on the album include the album’s title track “The Truth in Me” and “Treasure” both of which have attracted attention of Four Tet, Notwist, and The Postal Service’s Jimmy Tamborello, doing remixes of the tracks.
While fans of The Cure’s definite ’80s sound may be thrown for a loop when they pick up The Truth in Me, there is something for everyone if you look hard enough. The Moog is certainly an acquired taste, even for Electronica fanatics used to sharp digital synthesizers, but O’Donnell’s work is as precise and varied as the Moog itself, allowing one instrument to have many different interpretations.
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