‘What the hell is going on?’ Pat Dam Smyth asks at the beginning of ‘Kids,’ the track that kicks off ‘The Last King,’ Smyth’s follow-up to his 2012 debut, ‘The Great Divide.’ What’s going on is the sound of someone with a serious Pink Floyd fetish (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The droning synths that open the album point the way toward an atmospheric journey of moody, classic pop that keeps a foot in the present while acknowledging the past.
‘The Last King‘ isn’t a strict concept album, but it does touch on Smyth’s childhood in Northern Ireland, and while his experiences are quite his own, they’re at the same time universal. The music pulls you in, even when it’s at its darkest. The fantastic ‘Juliette’ begins with what sounds like an inverse Link Wray riff and turns into a tale of sinister beauty. ‘Dancing,’ according to the press release, is “a story about a bad trip in a local nightclub as a teenager in his little town of Banbridge where the rockers and rave kids met in the corridor between the two rooms.” Whether that’s known or not doesn’t add to, or take away from, its charm. It’s the sound of the other side of the night. When the party’s over – for you anyway – and you’ve lost all interest in the fun others are having.
Though it may sag somewhat in the middle as a few of the songs run together without leaving much of an impression, and the closing ‘When the Light Goes’ is a tad heavy on the melodrama, the strong moments that make up the bulk of ‘The Last King’ make seeking it out worthwhile.