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Gavin Friday - catholic

catholic sleeveIt's been a long time coming but in the 16 years since his last album, Shag Tobacco, Gavin Friday has busied himself with film soundtracks, theatre performances, acting and "show consultant" to U2. And with a stellar guest list for his 50th birthday celebration held at Carnegie Hall, New York, the former Virgin Prunes frontman could have enlisted the help of any number of stars. As his musical partnership with Maurice Seezer faded he turned to Cork based musician Herbie Macken. Now in his fifties, the songs on catholic cover a period encompassing the dissolution of his marriage, the death of his father with whom Friday had a fractured relationship, and a period where he was laid up with back problems. catholic draws upon these for lyrical inspiration, as such, it is literally an album about love, loss and life.

catholic is an elegant, mature and moving piece of work. Knowing his previous solo work catholic is quite unexpected and unlike any of his prior releases and with Ken Thomas on production it is a grand, orchestrated release with lush electronic textures couching the devastating emotiveness on display here. The opener 'Able' is like an electro version of U2, its pulse throbbing like Adam Clayton's solid bass, but by the end it's all gone Wire like. His voice here is whispered and sultry and throughout catholic he is in fine form. On 'A Song That Hurts' his voice soars to falsetto tones over cinematic arrangements. The experience of Friday's soundtrack work is in full evidence here. 'The Sun And The Moon And The Stars' exudes a sheen of sheer elegance. 'Perfume' bristles with a brashness; its vocal accompaniment recalling the absurdities of the Virgin Prunes, the main vocal however is humorous and half-spoken, with glam guitars that mark a return to the Gavin Friday of old but it's a real one-off here. Most things on catholic have a stripped back-to basics core. Despite the electronics, 'Land On The Moon' is basically a ballad, its acoustic guitars, providing a backdrop to the breathy and whispered vocals, so vulnerable and tender, shadowed by female vocalist Amy Odell, and wrapped in cello and strings.

A rich sense of spirituality, far removed from a simple reading of the title, binds catholic. "I look to God, and you look to me" he sings on the subtle electro of 'The Only One' as the arrangements are swept up into lush orchestration. catholic hinges around 'Blame', a moving acoustic ballad that reconciles the past from the vantage point of middle age, "From the greylight to the bluelight to the daylight" whilst lamenting the death of his father: "I love my ma, my friends and brothers, I even loved my father". catholic isn't filled with downbeat and despondent introspection though. From the opening sombre cello and Beatlesque piano the overtly optimistic 'It's All Ahead Of You' is a song of experience, a song of illumination. As the ballad unfolds the arrangement, carrying traces of Ken Thomas' work with Sigur Ros, is fantastic: drum rolls and glockenspiel chime segue into the playing of the Castleford Salvation Army band.

'Epilogue', which arrives two tracks early, is another orchestral type thing reprising a vocal snippet from 'It's All Ahead of You'. 'It's followed by 'Where'd Ya Go? Gone?' with a distorted voice adopting a Tom Waits type voice, played off against another in a call and response with Gavin Friday reminiscing about his failed marriage, perhaps, over bare hammer beats and wailing guitar. catholic culminates on 'Lord I'm Comin''. With his broken voice upfront in the mix, the emotion on this final track is hard to miss. The sparseness of production is a masterstroke and when the sound swells the impact is staggering.

catholic eschews the Brecht and Weill of early Gavin Friday albums and the electro glam of Shag Tobacco is elsewhere as catholic goes for a far more revealing, vulnerable and personal type of song. The overriding sense of introspection makes this comparable to Billy Mackenzie's posthumous Beyond The Sun. It may be a slow-burner but wrapped as it is in a Ken Thomas production the result of catholic is devastatingly emotional.

And if you think Gavin Friday has lost his power to shock take a look at the provocative images on the cover and accompanying artwork: a corpse like Gavin Friday with catholic emblazoned on the collar of his uniform, draped in a tricolour with a crucifix laid on his chest, or inside posing in military garb, or dressed as a prison guard with high heels and an aggressive looking dog. There's even words from his friend Patrick McCabe based on catholic. Listening to catholic it is obvious Gavin Friday is anything but dead. To call this a musical rebirth or resurrection doesn't even come close. catholic is recommended. For more information go to