The beating heart of Jonathan Breeís old band, The Brunettes, was the whimsical lilt of the bandís other member, Heather Mansfield. Her lightness was such an influence on that bandís sound, that even when they tried really hard, they could only go so dark. Without her brightening the mood, on his debut solo album The Primrose Path, it seems that Jonathan Bree is free to get depressing.
Given that, itís surprising that the distinguishing feature of The Primrose Path is that itís an album without sharp edges or tight turns. Thematically, this is an album about control - itís about emotions being kept in check, sounds that convey meaning with their subtlety, rather than their power.
From the outside, controlling passion can look a lot like having none in the first place. If we were to go by lyrics alone, The Primrose Path might look like an ode to inaction. The themes explored have to do with frustrated emotions that have consigned themselves to only barely being felt. The track ĎSevení tells the story of an unrequited love that the singer has never moved on from - heís with a new love, but fantasizes about the one that got away; heís a tired man, trying to be happy with what he has.
Sounds unbearably maudlin, right. Well, itís listenable because of everything else that goes on around the lyrics. The music is intricate, but perfectly weighted, demonstrating more of that control. The instrumentation is so beautifully, and meticulously complex that itís often incongruous that it accompanies such inward-looking words. These strings and flutes are about something bigger than one man and his problems - they float above his words, making a mockery of them. Not that this incongruity is a bad thing, it certainly has its charms. For instance, ĎSevení, which is particularly maudlin is followed by a sweet instrumental of a palette cleanser, which is an example of what this album can be at its best.
Though itís not like the instrumentation is making up for poor lyrics either. The lyrics are maudlin, yes, but thereís a diary-esque poetry to them that makes the writer a very likeable character. If there is a criticism to be made here, itís that low-key nature (or control, which ever it is) means that the lyrics donít pack much of a punch, even at their rawest. Though even that works from time to time. The albumís closer, 'Boxes', is about the heartbreak of the creative process not quite working out, when no one wants to hear what you have to say. The song doesnít say much, because the singer has learnt his lesson, and ultimately thatís the most heartbreaking part.
The title track is a refreshing surprise, as it completely flips the carefully laid out script. The instrumentation on that one is sparse, barely there at times, but Breeís voice gets a little bit of bite. Bree plays a character, and this song is that characterís dark side. The lyrics ďIíll be good to you on the primrose path, and weíll forget Iím a sociopathĒ come out with a growl, like the control has slipped, despite the fact that they speak of control. Itís a fitting summation of the contradictions that make this album unique.