A truly beautiful album.
Boo Hewerdine is a hugely well-respected songwriter. And deservedly so. From his first album in 1986, ‘Walking The Ghost Back Home’ with his band The Bible, to this, his thirteenth solo release, he has consistently written well crafted, thoughtful lyrics and melodies as well as collaborating with the likes of k.d. lang, Kris Drever, Chris Difford, Kathryn Williams, Eddi Reader and, most recently, Kim Richey and Lady Nade.
‘Understudy’ consists of twelve new songs, all written during lockdown in his Glasgow flat. ‘This album’, in Hewerdine’s words, ‘is a reflection of this strange time’. It was a time when he turned 60. It was a time when he was unable to visit his father in a care home before he died, and this album is dedicated to his memory.
Many of the lyrics are, understandably, hugely personal and about getting older. At times they are wistful and melancholy. For example, in ‘Useful’ Hewerdine muses “Yes I know that I’m older, Universe has got colder”; and in ‘Why I bring you flowers’ he sings, “tell me how you are today, a smile as old as you are now, are they treating you ok? And after that I don’t know what to say”.
Yet there is real warmth and also a great deal of hope as well; during lockdown he talked to his dad every day in the lead up to his death, reflected in the lyrics about fond memories that are to be found in a number of the songs, and he made new remote friends and rediscovered the joy of writing. So there is, without doubt, a joyful narrative running throughout the lyrics, and images of new beginnings. The opening song, ‘Magnets’ begins; “Age is just a number, you’re beautiful inside, Today is the first day of the rest of your life”; and in ‘Spring’ it’s “farewell to the charcoal skies, the trees are breathing green”. There is even a song entitled, ‘The Day I Fell In Love With The World’!
Hewerdine has always had the ability to come up with great tunes, and this album is full of them. From relatively sparse arrangements, led by piano- as in ‘Euston Station’- or acoustic guitar- ‘Afternoons’- to the use of strings in ‘Men Without War’ and ‘The Things You Love’, the melodies are instantly memorable. And on top of that, his voice has never sounded better!
As a result, ‘Understudy’ is a truly beautiful album, and Boo Hewerdine shows himself yet again to be one of Britain’s best songwriters.