Emotionally draining it may be, but ‘Three’ is a trip worth taking
Of course, this is Nathaniel Bellows’ third album, but there is not such a lack of imagination in the title. Three also represents the number of years of illness suffered by Bellows’ father before he died in March 2019. And there’s further numeristic symbolism there with March being the third month of the year. The album as a whole can be regarded as a coming to terms with this dramatic change. Starting with ‘In the Wool‘ there’s a questioning of who we are and who we become as strong bonds are broken and new roles have to be assumed. Across a sparse guitar and keyboards backing Nathaniel Bellows’ primal growl of a vocal challenges the idea of being “dyed in the wool”, seeing life as a constant vista of changes. What was before remains in the memory, but doesn’t have to shape the whole of the future.
The songs on ‘Three‘ cover huge acreages of emotions within the space of a few minutes each, ‘I’ve Learned‘ takes in the idea of personal growth but entwines this with a questioning of why life has been laid out as an Ouroboros of pain and also an almost childlike need for understanding “why didn’t he ever say you’re worthy? / Why did she give in just to play that servant? / Why did it end up all with “I don’t know” ? / Why did you leave?” The elegiac closer ‘Move Away‘ brings a form of closure – if a severing of ties is closure, but since Bellows’ sings of ties that have not so much bound but constrained: “could you stay here if they said “Truce I’m sorry too” ? / Could you say here “I made this beauty from these wounds”?” then leaving is not necessarily running away from pain but an acknowledgement that to stay is to invite suffering.
No-one could mistake ‘Three‘ for an easy or unflinchingly uplifting album. Nathaniel Bellows has emotional demons – and he doesn’t take the easy path of just casting them out. Instead he bravely faces them, and by so doing has made a sombre, literate and austere song-cycle that abjures simple solutions.