I’m reviewing one of my favourite songwriters without any media context. Too many unsubstantiated superlatives and I’d blank me. The basics are that Open Mouth is the solo vehicle of Seymour Glass, who has made two records with various incarnations of a band called Miss Black America. I’ve found them pretty life affirming. I have immense respect for this bloke, and jumping on my back when smelling dubious aside, he’s always been decent enough with me. I have issues with the artwork though…
Politics, most overtly manifested in criticism of the Blair-Bush axis handling of the Iraq war and fundamentalist neo-conservatism, plays a large part of Import/Export. Subscription to ideology is the album’s weakest facet. Glass tells me nothing that I don’t already know, and there’s a level of balance occasionally approaching Fox and Al-Jazeera standards. I fully accept the elements of validity in his argument, but we’re presented with a world view which only examines the wrongs stemming from Washington and London. I feel the truth is a lot more complex, with several opposing culpable parties unmentioned, and a lot of incompetence and coincidence working in tandem with moral impropriety. The album cover shows a dark helicopter looming menacingly over a parade of British and American flags. I found it about as realistic as the depiction of “Muslims” on the BNP website.
Thankfully, there’s a Billy Bragg level of humanity present amidst the most overt protest, and some kicking tunes. “Other Voices, Other Worlds” is immaculately saccharine and emotive, recalling Get Cape Wear Cape Fly, Built to Spill, and Aussie boy band Savage Garden. Before the shaming samples of Bush, Blair and an U.S soldier, Seymour asks “how can you talk civil liberty/when I can’t come to you and you wont come to me?” Blair is sampled talking about the war not being about politics in the conventional partisan sense, but art, sport, culture and “being a fully paid up member of the human race.” It’s followed by a voice saying “I think I’m going to be sick.” I think there’s a pretty decent parallel to be drawn between Tony’s actions and Seymour’s words. In both cases, men of strong convictions do what they believe is right, without quite being able to divorce their beliefs from the cold facts ahead. The neo-con witch hunt of “A Charge to Keep” has Linkin Park’s commercial rock sound and a Johnny Cash type of ire as “cowboys and angels testify.”
The above discussed, I can get on to explaining why the majority of Import/Export showcases everything that make this guy great. The structure throughout most of these songs surprised me, characterised by Nick Drake style pastoral strumming and turn of the millennia commercial rock production. “The Quietest” absolutely shattered any cynicism harboured. It’s probably the best thing the man has ever written. The most beautiful guitar this side of Pink Moon collides with warts and all intent worthy of Life’s a Riot with Spy vs. Spy. “Leatherhead” is a brilliant salvo of loose Smiths references and fallible deference, while “Liberty Belle” has shades of Bob Mould and early Radiohead B sides.
“Castle Keep” makes my jaw drop. Lines like “the stranger/danger principle has left me strange to one and all” are some of the best I’ve ever heard. It deserves a Four Weddings and a Funeral type scene involving lovers and rain. The assertion that “four walls are everything, I blu-tack my life to them” warrants the best of mainstream acclaim. “Hang Fire” would be amongst the highlights of a Shine compilation (slotted right next to Marion) if ten years early. Meanwhile a cover of Shocking Blue’s “Love Buzz” departs from the original and Nirvana versions with some of the intimacy of Jeff Buckley’s radio sessions. Import/Export is a winning stylistic transformation because the change doesn’t feel forced. The Open Mouth project succeeds because of the strength of its songs and the indelible eloquence with which it exhibits humanity.
Johnny Cash – The Man Comes Around
Nick Drake – Pink Moon
Billy Bragg – Back To Basics