Bearos Records released the compilation album Journeys Without Maps: A Tribute To The Lord Of The Rings back in 2002; a label put together by a guy known locally as ‘The Doc’ who gave hope to many of the emerging alternative Birmingham based musical acts that were around back in the day. Radagast the Brown by Rodney Cromwell was a special part of that compilation and time period – a drum machine Casio/Korg pummelling beast of a tale, made as a tribute to the ZX Spectrum ‘Lord of the Rings’ computer game theme, recently brought back to life on Cromwell’s BandCamp page.
Cut to 2015 and the Happy Robots Records ‘shrink wrapped environmentally friendly plastic-saving cardboard sleeve’ released Age of Anxiety – Cromwell’s new musical creation.
Now a London local (not sure if he was ever Midland’s based ) Cromwell has pieced together a full-length slab of what sounds like a modern mix of Beach Boys Love You era syth, with a dose of krautrock stylized LifeCoach wizardry and Hot Chip charm.
Opening with what sounds like a battery drained baby mobile, the album quickly ascends into the heavens with the dulcet aurora of Cassiopeia – a song with a pulsating tone and dreamlike melody.
Barry Was An Arms Dealer is the closest on Age of Anxiety that resembles a Phil Manley outtake. Cromwell manages to place his own stamp on this paean about a guy named Barry, revealing his voice in full for the first time, the motorik beat syncopating beneath the Kalashnikov loving tale.
The cathartic thrum of Age of Anxiety is a refreshing mix of primal DIY minimalism, swept across a 80s Factory Records floor – an influence Cromwell alludes too in his brief biography. What the album lacks in musical variation is made up for in the personalised lyrics.
During the trippy duet You Will Struggle, Cromwell exposes the inner demons from within: “There’s someone out there for everyone / For the sad and lonely”. Sounding lyrically like a 70’s era Brian Wilson, the words are sparse, exposed and heartfelt – providing Age of Anxiety with a refreshing human fragility.
Production wise, Age of Anxiety is in good hands. The music is crisp and alert, with some well but not over used studio trickery that gives an all over sheen to the recording. This sterility can take away from the music at times; some tape hiss (think McCartney II) would have been a warm welcome but is only a minor gripe on an already well-conceived album.
On the final track Black Dog Cromwell croons: “All this anxiety, can’t be that good for me”. Sounding like someone facing his fears and coming to terms with the psychological disorder, Cromwell states that ‘Age of Anxiety is the sound of personal demons being confronted by the power of homebrew disco’, summing up a great summertime album that has a lot of heart.
The full track-listing for ‘Age of Anxiety’ is as follows…