“Is it true – you’ve been feeling kind of low these days?”
Our goofy hero Mac, these days clad in camo dungarees, still clinging to the traditional pack of Viceroys, has always worn his heart on his sleeve without sacrificing any of his gleeful charm. While Salad Days saw him pepper his mellow surf rock with mature introspection and establish himself as the boy-king of contemporary singer-songwriters, the surprise announcement of a mini-LP Another One suggests that even with a world tour off his back, he’s still kicking around with some stuff to get off his chest.
This short gap between his last album and its semi follow-up hasn’t seen a significant development of the formula besides Mac’s newfound penchant for the synthesiser. What permeates Another One’s soft, melodious array of synths and furry bass guitar is the melancholic insecurity that Salad Days teased us with. With a chirpy, charming Harrison-esque guitar lick ‘The Way You’d Love Her’ sets the tone of the LP: warm, comfortable and familiar albeit missing the robust production of Salad Days.
The term ‘Double EP’ may have worked better for Another One, which feels a few notes shy of a standard 35 minute record. Thankfully the seamless way the songs stand beside each other prevents the record from sliding into the half-baked, off-the-cuff pigeon hole. Suffice to say there has been no dramatic addition to Mac’s sound, and most of the songs are stylistically indistinguishable – not that I level this as substantial criticism. Once a songwriter has established a core sound, a major shift in style shouldn’t be at all mandatory. Daring and unpredictable in character he may be, DeMarco’s songs do not invite elaborate experimentation. In this respect, Mac remains a loyal, almost conservative indie rocker.
As simply a small-ish record put out on the sly, nobody was expecting a game-changer, so all the more appropriate is it that Mac seems to have taken it down a notch and allowed his tunes to stew in a milky, lo-fi broth, a marked difference from the sleek and robust synth-based approach of ‘Passing Out Pieces’. Each song feels muted and restrained, excluding the occasional frantic, Steely Dan infused guitar solos on songs like ‘Just to Put Me Down’. However, a small but significant amount of material appears borrowed, not only from other artists, but from Mac’s own back catalogue, and consequently feels lax and slightly hurried. Unfortunately this can be cloying at times, but is largely redeemed by the sheer musicality of the standout tracks.
No other song on besides the title track oozes as much burning emotion as ‘A Heart Like Hers’. Clearly reminiscent of the creeping introspection on ‘Chamber of Reflection’, ‘A Heart Like Hers’ showcases a raw, haunting melancholy only glimpsed by the other relaxed gems in his collection, and its no wonder comparisons are already being made between Mac and the wistful boozer Harry Nilsson as singer-songwriter compadres.
Though his lyrics have never been particularly incisive or original, they’ve always been supported by his strong, sugary melodies and a velvety, nicotine-soaked croon that disguises any hint of cliché. The tenderness of Mac’s woe is near-harrowing on the arrival of the chorus’ chiming guitars that could pierce even the stoniest of hearts – coupled with the title track, one can only speculate that Mac’s poor old heart is under heavy siege. Not that he lets this feeling linger long, as the succeeding track ‘I’ve Been Waiting for Her’ brings a lighter and more immediate, if not largely familiar air to the album’s close.
Few other artists eschew scrutiny quite as easily as Mac. The excellent Another One does little to contradict the perception of DeMarco as a writer of cosy and casual pop songs, but manages to avoid being throwaway due to its darker and more mature lyrics which are counterbalanced by DeMarco’s more understated approach this time round.
Though there’s not a great deal to find in terms of adventure as a songwriter, Mac retains his skills as a craftsman of beautiful 3-minute pop records – something I’m sure he’s proud of. Even with his bleeding-heart drama, Mac’s tender lyrics and dazzling melodies eclipse his notorious, insatiable appetite for the lewd, crude and rude, and reserves his place in our hearts. Mac, you are the Viceroy of pop. Keep at it.