In an age of Spotify-led instant gratification, there’s something pleasingly bloody-minded about Richard Dawson’s decision to begin his seventh album with the 41-minute The Hermit. It feels more statement than song, a suspicion that is backed up by the fact it has an accompanying short film, to be shown at selected cinemas. So far, so Michael Jackson’s Thriller. And yet it’s curiously underwhelming, a full 11 minutes of instrumental noodling drifting by before Dawson’s voice appears. There are further twists and turns but little in the way of excitement across the slightly leaden remainder, and it feels more like an achievement to admire than something to love.
It’s a shame that it casts such a long shadow over the rest of the otherwise enjoyable The Ruby Cord, the final part of a trilogy that began with the medieval-themed Peasant (2017) and continued with the brilliant series of state-of-the-nation snapshots that was 2020. This time the setting is an immersive metaverse of the future – the poignant Museum looks back on humanity in all its diversity (“throngs of cheering football fans, a doctor crying alone”), a dozen centuries after people have become extinct, and builds to a gorgeous climax that gently echoes the closing riff to the Horrors’ Sea Within a Sea.
As with much of his finest work, The Fool finds Dawson combining the muscularity of his music with the fragility of his quavering voice to powerfully moving effect. There’s enough good material here for this to have been an excellent 40-minute album; as it is, it’s a flawed 80-minute one.