Former Trembling Bells sticksman embraces his inner Nick Cave, but adds some glam-rock, gospel-soul, sea shanties and classic country into the mix.
Alex Rex – real name Alex Neilson – was the drummer in now-defunct Scottish psych-folkers, Trembling Bells. ‘Paradise’ is his fourth solo album and sees him reunited with his former bandmate, vocalist Lavinia Blackwall, for the first time since the group split up. Other collaborators on the record include Marco Rea (Euros Childs) and Kacy Lee Anderson (Kacy and Clayton).
The latter joins Neilson on one of the standout songs, ‘Black Peonies’ – a rousing and ragged, male and female country duet in the tradition of Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, or Nancy & Lee, with a memorable opening line: “I wear the knickers you gave me when I play football with the boys.”
Many of the songs were written in early lockdown, with no opportunity to rehearse, but Neilson says that’s his preferred method of working: “Choosing talented people to record 13 songs that they’ve never heard before, with a three-take limit. To my mind, this captures the songs at a vital tipping point – where parts are being discovered for the first time by musician and listener alike.”
It certainly makes for interesting and rewarding listening. ‘Paradise’ is an album that’s full of surprises – a rich and varied collection of songs. On the twangy folk-noir-meets-sea-shanty of ‘Dancing Flame’, Neilson summons up some Nick Cave-like Gothic gloom and drama, as he ponders: “I wonder what she’s doing now, the girl I left behind? She was making noble speeches in the courtroom of my mind, boys.”
Cave also springs to mind on the rowdy garage-rock-blues of ‘What’s Shouted In The Dark (The Dark Shouts Back)’, with Neilson whipped up into a frenzy, akin to a demented preacher. “I love the sound of breaking dreams,” he tells us – like he’s an angry punk version of Nick Lowe.
Opener, ‘LowLife’, is guilt-ridden, confessional gospel-soul, with a drum machine – “Lord, I just can’t stand what I’ve become” – the swaggering ‘Ida’ has a glam backbeat, and the anthemic ‘Scandalise The Birds’ heads for the Big Country, with its Celtic stadium rock guitars.
At 13 songs, ‘Paradise’ is slightly overlong – a couple of the tracks tend to pass by without making too much of an impression – but Neilson’s demented kingdom is a place that’s worth visiting. All hail Alex Rex.