Roy Harper: The Dream Society
Album review: originally published in Mojo, July 1998
The Sophisticated Beggar, the Valentine, the Loony On The Bus... Roy Harper has worn these and other Lifemasks for more than 30 years now and with this new, remarkable instalment the real Roy stands up. Not in one easy motion, of course - this is the first part of a two-volume autobiographical song cycle. Accessible, yes, but rather in the same way as Lewis Carroll. Are all these densely wrought worldviews and achingly poignant recollections from the same cornered, vulnerable little soul? Apparently so. For anyone who has struggled with Harper’s work in the past - the swings and roundabouts of his vitriol and tenderness never allowing for an easy relationship with the casual listener - this could be the one. The abiding thoughts from even a handful of listens is not only the intensity of Roy’s passion, even after all these years, but the deeply emotional content of his own history that he succeeds in crafting mercurially and believably into songs with beautiful, instantly memorable melodies and appropriate musical settings as required.
A ponderous opener aside, this is an album so taut and focused it could snap. When Roy builds up a head of rockabilly irony on ‘Psychopath’ and sings the refrain, ‘I wanna leave this psychopath behind’, you know he means it. But likewise he’s still wowed by the libido-drenched young man memories of ‘Songs Of Love Part 2’, pumped out in suitably sensual Zeppelin riffage. Not in contrast but in complement the ‘no more pain’ simplicity of ‘I Want To Be In Love’ and the desperately sad ‘Dancing All The Night’, where Roy’s desire to waltz with the late mother he never knew is executed with a sincerity and artistry that few others could master. Exploring a whole life’s experience, the sentiments of this record are far, far too complex to file under... whatever. Repeat plays are compulsive. It’s as if, after all these years we thought he was a nutter, Roy Harper is the only sane man left alive and this his brilliant memoir. Nightfighter? Songwriter.