John Martyn; Glorious Fool
Consistentcy has never been John Martyn’s strongest quality but the rabid mediocrity of Glorious Fool comes as a shock after last year’s Grace And Danger, a supple, open-hearted LP that seemed to presage a new air of adventure in his work.
Grace And Danger worked through a delicate balance in which Martyn’s left-field, sometimes wayward, talents were harnessed by a sophisticated musical and production back-up, not least of which was the solid foundation of Phil Collins’ drum work. Glorious Fool loses this balance completely, diminishing Martyn to a slick aural smoothness that is, ironically, in no small part due to Collins contributions as drummer and producer.
Most noticeable is the dearth of Martyn’s uniquely exciting guitar work, replaced here by a (wishy) wash of arty synth noises that rumble and whine to no good purpose. Against this, Martyn sings well, using the full range of his strangled, strangely blurred vocals to concoct a caressing sensuousness that can never quite, though, break through the stultifying tameness of both production and lyrics.
Here we come to Glorious Fool’s most alarming flaw the songs are simply second-rate. There is none of the emotional depth or commitment that marks Martyn’s best work (Grace And Danger, Inside Out), none of the originality and passion with which he can make his romance credible and gripping. ‘Couldn’t Love You More’, ‘Hold On To My Heart’ and ‘Pascanel’ are typical minor Martyn, the kind of pretty fripperies he’s been churning out for years, while ‘Amsterdam’ and ‘Never Say Never’ are louder but no less limp, one all melodramatic bluster, the other tainted with a tetchy petulance that spills over into ‘Pascanel’ and ‘Didn’t Do That’. ‘Please Fall In Love With Me’ is another extreme and ‘I want to fall in love with the world/ I want the world to fall in love’ the kind of line you might smuggle through once but which lies exposed in all its mindless, posey banality when you turn it into a closing chant and accompany it with ponderous and very self-important drums.
‘Don’t You Go’, rooted in the traditional folk ballad, closes the LP in quiet, moving fashion. A plea for peace, it’s ‘Fool’s one glorious moment: as striking as the rest is bland, as convincing as the rest rings false.
Martyn may have curtailed the indulgence to which he has always been prone, in doing so he seems to have lost his main source of inspiration. The unruly maverick has become net, tidy and polite. There is no drive, no depth to Glorious Fool; no grace or danger, just ordinary upmarket competence.
Whatever happened to the glory of love?
New Musical Express
10 October 1981