A solid debut that shows that there’s no shame in keeping true to your roots.
If you’re as confused with the title of Anton O’Donnell’s first full-length release as I initially was, the following breakdown might help you gain some insight: firstly, “tomber sur” translated from French to English comes out as “falling on”, and then “PRW” is not actually a shortened version of the word preview (as was my first thought, I suspect due to too much time spent puzzling over the Missing Vowels round on ‘Only Connect’), but instead it represents a shortened version of the much more meaningful “Paisley Road West”, the street on which O’Donnell lives in his native Glasgow. The title as a whole came about when he looked at the songs that ended up making the tracklist and realised them all to have the theme of the weight and noise around modern life and how he had come under its spell – or fallen for it – much in the same way he might for a woman; so ‘Falling On Paisley Road West’, or rather ‘Tomber Sur PRW’, was born.
“Could be a sinner or a saint / Destitute or a prince / It don’t cost much to show kindness,” sings O’Donnell on the opener ‘Kindness’. Here, and throughout, his rough but easy vocals drip with an effortless but distinctive 90s Britpop cool, giving shades of Liam Gallagher or Richard Ashcroft as he’s often nimbly backed by a range of female vocalists who provide some beautifully effective harmonies. Partly inspired by the story of a man taking his own life, ‘Shine A Light’ handles the subject of mental health openness sensitively, the richness of cello backing O’Donnell’s vocals adding to the poignance as he insists, “We’ll shine a light and call out its name” to the unspoken demon of depression.
The most overtly Americana in tone of all the tracks, ‘Dreams Fade Under the Weight’ moves along at a pace, ripe with fiddle and mandolin as O’Donnell reminds us to remember our dreams, even when it’s hard to keep sight of them: “Dreams of marquee lights and high-end shows / Sold for bar room days with nothing to show / Though your dreams fade under the weight / You never did plan it out that way / From the cradle to the grave / It’s easy to get lost in the race.” The rock-ish ‘It Never Lasts’ is an affectionate tribute to a late friend, while ‘Madman on the Loose’ is a rambling tale of the titular madman on a crime spree via the highways of America, and ‘Django’ sees O’Donnell imagining a “what if” scenario for the main character of Quentin Tarintino’s 2012 western ‘Django Unchained’.
A song as pressing and poignant now as it ever was, ‘Skulduggery’ sees O’Donnell express his anger against the biassed nature of the media and the often skewed view we gain from it of worldwide conflict: “In a suit with blood under his nails / Hiding behind a lie that he sells on a billion TVs / Hide your eyes or you’ll catch the decease / No you feel no God around here / Just the devil in man.” The soulful ‘Folk’ similarly takes aim at those in positions of influence and power, but in this case the government rather than the media. “Man, it feels like a con / These seats are preserved for thieves / Was the writing always on the wall?” he asked in weary frustration, continuing to later question the people in authority again – this time their handling of the pandemic – on ‘Set It On Fire’ (“There’s a man in the shadows that looks like Mr Burns / He’s got me as a number and nothing more / There ain’t no heart at the heart of this / Just a big black hole with a kill list”).
O’Donnell’s influences are vast, from blues to country to folk and rock ‘n’ roll, and as such, they’ve taken him around the world – predictably to Nashville, but less so to places like Rome and Paris – but in the music he makes, there is a little grounding piece of home that always comes through, and it makes him all the more unique for it; so long live his time on Paisley Road West and the texture it adds to his music.