Stuart Warwick - The Butcher's Voice
Talk about modest PR: Stuart Warwick describes himself on Twitter as a "mild-mannered video shop employee and unsuccessful singer/songwriter based in Brighton." His new record The Butcher's Voice would be the perfect soundtrack to an autobiographical indie movie/rock opera, set against the glittering lights of the seafront pier. This album is delicious, dark and dramatic. Its intro track 'Sailors' is evocative of childhood memories, merry-go-rounds and wind-up music boxes. However this music is by no means fluffy; there is always a hint of the sinister. Warwick deftly manipulates light and shade to create surprising sonic narratives.
The essentially upbeat second track 'Birds That Don't Fly' with its racing, locomotive percussion and ethereal harp strings is followed by the plaintive lament that is 'Cherished Muscle'. Warwick's voice becomes a dithery whisper, then suddenly strong and urgent again. He lays himself bare and fragile for us all to see; themes of judgement and prejudice emerge throughout The Butcher's Voice. The pressure he felt, even at an early age, to conform is implied in nostalgic lyrics about hiding a Hello Kitty necklace under the floorboards so that his father wouldn't see. These glimpses into Warwick's private world are carefully selected; his choices are clearly the result of very disciplined and self-reflective artistic practice.
There are clear parallels between Stuart Warwick and artists such as Rufus Wainwright, who somehow manage to bring a sense of grandeur and almost operatic spectacle to a one-man show. Despite not witnessing Warwick live, simply by listening to this recording one gets an impression of the sound as performance, inhabiting space. The Butcher's Voice is blackly comic in parts, burdened by a deep-rooted melancholy which only serves to make the sporadic high points shine brighter. Every track is a welcome surprise; this guy knows how to maintain our interest, keeping it fresh and unpredictable for the whole 45 minutes. On the other hand, this album functions most definitely as a whole, its many individual segments sitting side by side in perfect alignment.
A syncopated, tango-style beat prevails over 'Crush', coupled with dreamy, relaxed vocals. Warwick's breathy utterances wash over me like waves, free yet predictably rhythmic. The layers build steadily into a choral climax, subsequently diminishing into a nomadic whistle of the wind. This bridges the gap to 'Melancolonica,' a track which is almost wholly instrumental. Here no voice is needed; instead tinkly piano accompanied by strings tentatively explore their surroundings on the long leash Warwick allows them. One is struck by the sudden sense of distance and lack of clarity, as if we've suddenly run into unknown territory. It is clear however, that every decision Warwick has made is conscious and controlled; we might be lost in his soundscape, but he designed the route we took.
The penultimate song's despondent mood is met by complete contrast at the start of 'The Fairer Sex,' with what sounds like an extract from a Northern comedy night with a Lily Savage-style drag queen compere. This is just a humorous, anomalous deviation; the track then somehow flawlessly transcends into a sorrowful lullaby, with just an implied twinkling of hope. In this digital age, The Butcher's Voice feels like a truly human record. Stuart Warwick allows us not only to hear, but also to feel how tender his flesh really is.