The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Phil Selway
Familial Tom Hawking , September 27th, 2010 13:26

Radiohead's drummer Phil Selway is largely known for being a) bald, b) a Samaritan and c) a really nice guy, so it's something of a surprise to hear him apparently admitting to some sort extra-marital skullduggery in the opening lines of his debut solo album Familial. "I gave into temptation," he sings, "I've strayed across a line," confessing to both a perverse exhilaration and, ultimately, a crushing burden of guilt. The song – 'By Some Miracle' – sets the mood for the album: gentle melodies, acoustic instrumentation and introspective lyricism.

Familial is, as its name suggests, a collection of songs that reflect on families and the myriad interpersonal relationships that exist within them. The subject matter seems to be deeply personal, and it demonstrates that Selway is a songwriter of no little talent. His lyrics display a gentle wisdom and a certain generosity of spirit, both qualities that are echoed in his soft tenor. He sets his words against quiet folk-influcenced acoustic backdrops. If you're looking for comparisons, then you could do worse than an even softer Nick Drake, albeit without the crazy time signatures and intricate fingerpicking. But the mood is the same, all dapppled English sunlight on autumn leaves and quiet afternoons by an open fire.

At times, the songs are so intimate that you almost feel you're eavesdropping on something private. 'Broken Promises', for instance, finds Selway apparently reflecting on his childhood – he laments the mistakes his parents made, but ultimately refuses to condemn them: "Once the hurt has faded, only the love will remain". There's a sense of both genuine hurt and genuine love, and the song is made all the more poignant by the fact that it also seemingly constitutes a farewell: "Go to a place where you'll find/Peace for the very first time."

In a similar vein but adopting a different perspective is 'The Ties That Bind Us', wherein Selway addresses his own son: "I want to show you another way/I want to keep you from my mistakes," he sings, musing that the titular family ties are "a kind of blindness". But for all that families are as fragile and fallible as the people who create them, Familial suggests that they're often all we have: "I'm tied to you, you're tied to me/It's like we're on a high trapeze," declares 'Don't Look Down', exhorting its subject (Selway's own wife, presumably). "Don't look down, it's fine... All our fears will lessen in time."

As a whole, Familial seems to constitute an expression of faith and love to those close to Selway's heart. It concludes with the repeated line, "Those I love will carry me home," as neat a summation of its message as you could ask for. It's a genuinely beautiful record, and one of the year's completely unexpected pleasant surprises.