Mention of the Dawn Parade still makes me unusually excited. They are one of a liberal handful of bands that made gigs in front of 25 feel like more of an event than festival headliners. Few involved in naff indie groups in the early ’00s were more deserving of pop stardom, or more capable of acceptance without looking stupid, than their frontman and songwriter Greg McDonald. Stranger at the Door is his first solo record, two years on from the band’s parting.
Parts of Greg’s debut channel the darkest lyrical side of previous work, taking the same unwavering self belief for a walk around the docks as dusk sets. While empathy overrides misanthropy, there’s a grubbiness to parts of this album that rivals The Auteurs’ Now I’m a Cowboy. “The Children in the Forest” equates London rent boys with “supply and demand.” A character bought “Kit-Kats and Coke” and then “smoked all four rocks in one night” before the question “if love doesn’t catch us, what’s going to break our fall?” rises on an orchestrated plume. “Cheap Flight to Paradise” is a bloody narrated affair, parts Robyn and Alfred Hitchcock. Top marks for the public address sung backing vocals.
On the other end of the spectrum, Greg doesn’t seem to have given up on the chance of a wider audience. The majority of Dawn Parade songs saw angst and pop sensibilities converge where the aforementioned Auteurs, Pulp, U2 and Springsteen met. On Stranger at the Door, clasps of songs excel under the guise of the most commercial `singer-songwriter’ tinged boxes one can possibly tick. The New York International Songwriting Competition winner “Dead Mans Hand” is as good a punt towards making the industry take notice as the genre could possibly deliver. It’s like Coldplay’s “Yellow” and David Gray’s “Babylon” with Highway 61 dexterity. Meanwhile “You’re In My Blood” evokes Neil Finn at his best, all lush solemnity “on a life raft, drifting free, swigging a beer.”
Meanwhile, at middle ground, “Not the End of the World” makes punctured drama of a false announcement of the apocalypse. Coffee table ambience abounds when judges, call girls, and a tour guide come to red faced terms as a broadcaster states “sorry John, I think I read that wrong.” The closing “Taxi” stretches the most desolate night time anonymity that a capital city can muster. Dante, Kant, Bertrand Russell & Co. dubiously populate a netherworld where “the only route to freedom runs direct through the graveyard.” For all the various situations covered, this album is resolutely clear headed and erudite. Stranger at the Door is an adept soundtrack from twilight to cheque post.
The Auteurs – Now I’m A Cowboy
Bob Dylan – Highway 61 Revisited
Neil Finn – Try Whistling This