I’ve had my issues with awards in the past. I swore I’d boycott the Oscars after Spike Lee’s Malcolm X was snubbed in 1993. That hasn’t really stood up, despite the fact that I think the Academy Awards are somewhat of a joke. Book awards are generally hit or miss with generally the Pulitzer Prize for fiction being the most consistent. Don’t even get me started on the Grammys. I suppose the PLUG awards, the New Pantheon / Shortlist Prizes are hard to argue with as far as winners and nominees are concerned. But I’m really up in the air about the Mercury Prize. No other award, in my estimation, seems to be more focused on the transitory `now’ than the Mercurys. This is probably why Brits have associated a `curse’ with the prize, seeing some winners fall into obscurity after their win. So, I suppose winning the Mercury Prize could be somewhat of a mixed blessing. The Gorillaz even asked that their nomination be withdrawn in 2001. One of the biggest WTF’s in Mercury history is how in the hell M People won over Parklife, His n’ Hers and Wild Wood in 1994. Then there are a few years, like 1999 and 2002, where the field was so average that it really didn’t matter who won. Over the past few years, the curse factor hasn’t held much water. After all, Franz Ferdinand came back with a successful sophomore release and so did the Arctic Monkeys, even to the point of being nominated again. But Antony & the Johnsons still haven’t resurfaced and there was no more transitory `now’ band in this year’s field than Klaxons. What I’m trying to say here, is, Fionn Regan’s gotta be releasing a huge `phew’ about now.
Regan’s The End of History, released on Bella Union in the UK in August of 2006 and now finally released in the US on Lost Highway, was nominated for this year’s Mercury Prize. It deserved the nomination without question, being an album of delicate singer / songwriter tunes that are enough to make Damien Rice wonder what the hell happened with his own sophomore album. Thankfully, however, Regan avoided the controversy of the curse by losing to the aforementioned Klaxons. Not to worry, though, as fellow `losers’ included Maps, Bat for Lashes and Arctic Monkeys, acts not to be dismissed lightly. The album was recorded in an empty barn, lending the songs a sense of the clarity of early morning placidity. Because of this recording choice, Regan’s voice really comes through, every word audible, despite near whispers at times, and every string pluck is crisp and even (just like Good Ol’ King Wenceslas). Most press you’ll see on Fionn Regan will make the requisite references to Damien Rice and Nick Drake and the comparisons fit. Take “The Underwood Typewriter” as an example. The song centers around literary imagery, yet also has sexual undertones that show, like Shakespeare, that the animal instincts can stand alongside the artistic endeavors with ease.
With “Hunters Map,” Regan shows off his extraordinary guitar-playing abilities. Regan also displays that his lyrical style veers more toward the pastoral of Nick Drake rather than the urban folk leanings of Rice. “Hey Rabbit” finds Regan more in the territory of the oft times deep and other times nonsensical lyricism of Bob Dylan, or even Colin Meloy. “Put a Penny in the Slot,” the debut single from the album, is easily one of his best, mixing stream of consciousness lyrics referencing Paul Auster, Saul Bellow and a few other more veiled literary allusions with an easy going vocal style and harmonic choruses. “The Snowy Atlas Mountains” is another outstanding track, being closest to Nick Drake’s whispery vocal style and steady guitar playing while also being reminiscent of one of Ani DiFranco’s best eras where she delved deep into the psychologies of relationships. The same can be said for “Noah (Ghost in a Sheet),” a song whose refrain of “when our frames collide” is, aptly enough, haunting. At times in the song, Regan’s voice gets to a falsetto range similar to Chris Martin’s. The album ends as strong as it starts as Regan proves to be consistent in his spare and lovely songwriting, especially in the mostly instrumental closing track, “Bunker or Basement.” Stay tuned in, however, as a stellar hidden bonus track appears called “Campaign Button.”
With The End of History, Fionn Regan proved to be no mere busker, instead rising to the challenges previously toppled by such artists as Damien Rice, Glen Hansard and only maybe a handful of others. Regan’s UK debut proved strong enough to earn himself a Mercury Prize nomination, but thanks to the fact that he lost, this album won’t be the end of his own musical history. Just when you think a particular style of music just can’t show you anything new or excite you as it once did, an artist like Fionn Regan comes along and drops you on your head. The End of History is a gorgeous debut that deserves every accolade it earns.