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The Lightning Seeds
Four Winds Daniel Ross , May 28th, 2009 07:20

Ian Broudie's songs have always balanced heartbreak in lyric with pointed optimism in music — it's been done before, of course, but the Gods of Merseybeat and Motown have smiled upon him. When things started to tail off creatively, the Lightning Seeds became something of a Beautiful South prospect — a band you'd seriously struggle to justify liking unless you were someone's dad. With Four Winds, though, the goalposts have been bent slightly. It's not a classic pop record in the vein of some of their finer moments, but it _is_ an excellent Lightning Seeds record.

Broudie has had a rough few years in anyone's book, losing several members of his family, including both parents, and going through the break-up of his marriage. He's managed to turn these experiences into songs that almost bleed and cry. The title track sets the melancholy scene, with reverberating piano sonority and exploratory bass clarinet. The lyrics are simplistic but full-bodied and red-blooded, dealing with the relationship with his brother who “got those blues” and committed suicide. Broudie's voice, previously of an uncomplicated sweetness and a conversational ease, has now changed into something more befitting his 50 years — a light rasp graces the edges of certain lines on 'Things Just Happened', lending them poignancy and providing clear evidence that time and experience have changed this man since the days of Jollification.

Just like on previous records, a constant musical buoyancy masks the true, depressive nature of many of these songs. The winsome Pacemakerisms of 'All I Do' are all Brian Wilson guitars and clanging glockenspiels, but Broudie can't bring himself to contemplate new love — “I think I've had enough of love / I know it's had enough of me”. Indeed, the latter stages of the album are particularly cheerful and pop in tone and timbre. You might even call them a little boring, but at least they are excellently produced and executed. This does not dull the occasional moments when Broudie's words catch the listener off-guard — something that he's made a career of.

One line stood out from 'Tingle Tangle' (from Sense): “holding back the tears can make you cry”. It was furthered by the declaration that “only time can melt the ice cream cloud”. Forgiving the silly ice cream bit, there's not a better way to describe the conflicts in Four Winds. Broudie tries not to let depression overcome him, and won't allow trivial things like emotion stand in the way of fine pop. This leads to identikit tunes with affecting lyrics — nice enough, though it's only the tracks when the emotion is made explicit among the beautiful backing that the record reaches its undeniable peaks. Indeed, time seems to have melted Broudie's ability to use this slick pop as a means to control his emotion. But that's to our benefit, and when the thaw is complete we might finally see him in his purest light.