The lasting impression left by Tonight I Burn Brightly is of a sum greater than the parts of which it is composed. This can be said both about the album as a whole and the individual songs that populate it. In the latter case, simple structures and apparently simplistic lyrics come together in precise and imaginative arrangements full of incessant melodies and orchestration, which is at once restrained and luxuriant. From the opening track, “Cold Wind Will Blow Through Your Door,” Ricchini is immediately recognizable as a writer of songs, not who brazenly, thoughtlessly takes from past masters, past dreamers of perfect pop songs, but as a student of the intricacies of the form—a student attuned to the workings of some of the most enduring songs and albums from the last fifty years.
It is in the tradition of such albums as Odessey and Oracle and Pet Sounds, XO and Bryter Layter, that Tonight I Burn Brightly can be most appreciated and understood. I say this not to put it on par with these albums, which it is not, but to make the point that this is not an album that spurns convention in the pursuit of some boundary bending sound. Ricchini is content to stay within past structures, to shuffle the various parts together in new and illuminating ways. The result is an album which is satisfying throughout, full of charm and sadness, both enveloping and unpredictable. These songs stand up without the novelty of noise, stand up because they do not neglect the range of possibilities afforded by the openness of their structures. Ricchini appreciates the value of a simple, fully fleshed-out song. “Too much music is empty—I want to say something true. I want to connect.” This is Bill Ricchini’s goal, and his method is bringing into close collusion the familiar and the unfamiliar; with a bit of imagination and a dose of a particular personality, there are infinite revisions of the three-minute pop song that can emerge.
Tonight I Burn Brightly is evocative of a melancholic sensibility, equally enamored and terrified by the world. And for Ricchini, as it does for others of the same sensibility, fear manifests itself in the specter of the loss of individuality. “The worst thing in the world is to have an ordinary life,” according to a Ricchini quote in the press release for TIBB, and the subject matter, like the songs themselves, seeks the familiar, the revelatory in the known, in the exploration of the immense emotional space projected by human relationships. For Ricchini, these relationships are often frayed, disfigured or infected by the confluence of memory and emotion, of past in present; they are marked by a willful immersion in life even when one’s constant companion is doubt—the imagined foreknowledge that it will all go to hell sooner or later.
Wed to artful, expansive arrangements that never overshadow the songs’ simple grace, the scenes Ricchini depicts take on the luster of a sadness that can exist only beside the full spectrum of possibility intimated by human existence. I can only imagine that Ricchini will continue to sharpen his sensibility and that his future albums will become even more individualistic as he delves further into the world between the boundaries that he willfully invokes.
Elliott Smith – XO
Archer Prewitt – Wilderness
The Pernice Brothers – Overcome by Happiness