Richmond Fontaine, The High Country

You know how you get a tune in your head and it stays there all day? I’ve currently got some spoken words that are doing just that. The words are “I’m just fucked, Arlene” and “The girl from the auto parts store, I love her”. I’ve never heard a record like this in my life. Describing it to friends, the best I have come up with is “a cross between Hüsker Dü and Andrew Lloyd Webber”. To get the full effect, I drove into the countryside and through some woods while listening to it the first time. It was love at first listen, but I was worried that the effect might wear off with repeated listening, since there is quite a lot of dialogue involved. But on the contrary, the spoken sections are as gripping as the beautiful songs. The subject matter of a doomed relationship in the Oregon logging community is well known, but for some reason I don’t find it depressing in the least. Indeed, some sections, for example when Claude Murray is talking to himself in his car, are intentionally tongue in cheek. You wouldn’t worry about downbeat and violent subject matter in a book so why should it bother you in a record? The band is on the form of its life, coping elegantly with the wildest garage rock and the most understated acoustic ballads. Sean Oldham’s drumming on “Lost In The Trees” is worthy of Keith Moon at his most energetic. The cinematic production by John Askew is a vital element, as is the introduction of Deborah Kelly of the Damnations, playing the rôle of The Girl and singing quite beautifully throughout. As ever with Richmond Fontaine, it’s the slow, reflective songs which bring a tear to the eye, as in opening track “Inventory” and “Let Me Dream Of The High Country”. The songs are some of the strongest of the band’s career, and get set in your head after just a couple of listens. The extraordinary thing about The High Country is the scale of its ambition. How refreshing in an age of musical banality for a band to take such a massive risk and tilt at such a huge project. There will certainly be those who just don’t “get it” but I can assure them it’s their loss. Bold, thrilling and overflowing with inventiveness, this is my album of 2011.