Like his band The Church, guitarist Marty Willson-Piper has been releasing solo material for quite some time to lessening exposure and diminishing returns. What makes this fact so disappointing is that MWP has made dramatic improvements to his solo albums with each subsequent release. One of his first solo records, Art Attack, sounds little more than a collection of demo recordings conveniently packaged to take advantage of The Church’s (then) popularity. Since then, The Church’s and Marty Willson-Piper’s stock has plummeted while the overall quality of their offerings has increased. So it is with a heavy heart that I report his most recent record, Nightjar, is good enough to receive more praise than it will sadly receive.
It’s hard to explain why this is, as MWP (and The Church, for that matter) have yet to release a bad album and Nightjar is quite simply the best solo album that Marty Willson-Piper has released.
As with anything remotely related to the Church, you’d come to anticipate lots of twelve string arpeggios and other guitar induced atmospherics. They’re all wonderfully beautiful and perfectly complemented by MWP’s own vocal styling, romantic and sensuous, an eyelash shy of fey during some moments.
Like previously stated, none of this is relatively new when considering previous output, but there are two major forward steps in Nightjar that qualify it for newfound acclaim. MWP maximizes the studio with full arrangements. Strings and horns make appropriate appearances next to the already well-established guitar backdrops. They’re conservatively placed and, as a result, highlight Marty’s sudden lyrical surge.
Prior to Nightjar, MWP was notorious for punctuating his songs with tales of love, both the ascent and the decline. While Marty still likes to lyrically engage in the entanglements of the opposite sex, he’s now incorporating more political elements into his work.
In fact, one of the album’s best cuts, “Song For Victor Jara,” documents the Chilean activist’s final moments when his torturers broke the singer/songwriter’s hands before murdering him. They openly mocked him to play a song as he lay on the ground in pain, but as Marty writes with the line “Dare you see me die / With my dignity,” Jara reportedly broke out in a defiant protest song before the captors shot him and dumped his body in a road just outside of Santiago. His memory is beautifully served with Piper’s tribute, and Marty should consider similarly challenging themes in the future.
It’s been eight years since MWP’s last solo effort, Hanging Out In Heaven. The first track on that album, “Forget The Radio,” urges listeners to ignore the marketing machines and radio programmers that force feed safe and palatable music/artists, encouraging them to, instead, examine overlooked cult artists (“Andy Partridge / Robert Wyatt / You hear it / You buy it”) that continue to make important music right underneath the nose of the mainstream. He may as well been referring to his own career, of course, while ironically being even more suitable for mainstream tastes than those aforementioned legends. Which may explain why Marty Willson-Piper hasn’t achieved that “underground legend” himself: his material isn’t all that underground…but I’ll be goddamned if it isn’t good enough.
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