Some artists are known for their lyrics, others for their music. There’re even a special few well regarded for both; Jen Cloher, it seems, is an artist for whom lyricism is paramount. It’s not to say that there’s little of merit musically on Cloher’s self titled fourth album, but throughout the record’s 49 minutes she places words centre stage.
Admittedly, her lyricism is nothing if not intriguing – with themes touching on the deeply personal, the album often feels like a raw, unfiltered insight to Cloher’s psyche. Intimate contemplation of relationships and emotional instability abound, but despite the often confessional honesty of her lyricism there is also a defiant streak running throughout the album. ‘Jen Cloher’ is an album ultimately about coming to terms with and finding pride in who you are and who you share your life with; by the very nature of those themes, there’s an energy and persuasion to these songs that is hard to argue with and the results are often compelling.
Whilst Cloher’s lyricism is certainly potent, it does at times come at the cost of the music. While there are some great musical moments on the album, there are also points where it feels as though so much of Cloher’s attention has been applied to the lyrics that due attention hasn’t quite been paid to music that backs them. Even at its most electric, the album’s sonics serve primarily as a backing to Cloher’s understated, half-talked half-sung delivery and the words that come with it. That’s no bad thing in and of itself though and, indeed, there’s good reason for it, given that Cloher’s songs are the sort that demand real attention to fully appreciate. At times, however, the album’s instrumentation could benefit from a little more verve – throughout her self titled LP the instrumentation present is well articulated and played with a relaxed, quietly confident style. The problem more lies in the fact that, if the presence of Cloher’s vocals were to be stripped away momentarily from certain of the proceedings here, the remaining sound simply wouldn’t quite be engaging enough to fully merit attention.
Having said that, there are moments where Cloher and her band pick the energy up to good effect; the 8 minute twanging stomp of ‘Analysis Paralysis’ may start off simply but the song’s delightfully wonky guitar solo and pleasingly succinct, punchy overdubs lend the track a quietly beguiling presence rather belied – but by no means hampered by – the low-key delivery.
Although a few musical tweaks would have only embellished the innate impact of Jen Cloher’s self titled album, the direct observations and frequently striking honesty of her lyricism is enough to make the album an affecting work. While the record may require dedication and an attentive ear to get the most out of, there’s certainly enough depth to reward those who persevere.