Well-written and structured, this album showcases some great songwriting that was largely facilitated by the pandemic.
Like so many other recent albums, Police Dog Hogan’s newest couldn’t escape the influence of the pandemic finding its way in. While some of the songs were composed in a time before words like “lockdown” and “furlough” became commonplace, it’s songs like the Spring 2020 penned standout ‘Here Comes Crow’ where the band really shine.
“Crow comes with the dawn / He’s tapping on the windows, strutting on the lawn / There’s night in his ancient eye,” sings lead vocalist James Studholme on the aforementioned track, a mandolin heavy folk tinged song that manages to maintain a streak of soulfulness. “That crow tormented me for weeks in the first spring lockdown, coming just as the first light turned the windows into mirrors,” says Studholme of his inspiration. “He saw his reflection as an arch enemy, moving round the house window by window attacking himself,” which in itself sounds an awfully apt metaphor for how many coped with lockdown. Still on the theme of those early days of the crisis, ‘Cage of Stars’ and ‘Disappear’ go so far as to take on the familiar feeling of days of unease and uncertainty, with Studholme telling us to find the positives where we can on the former: “Try to find some comfort where you can / There’s always hope / I don’t believe in God’s celestial plan but I do believe in love.”
The bombastic but still sincere opener ‘Hold On’ is a meditation on hope in these times (“When I feel like giving up, I lift a cup, to the gift of love / My best ain’t good enough / When things get rough, I hold on, I hold onto love”), while the jazzy, Mardi Gras tinged ‘Barcelona’ is a fantasy about finding love in a far off city, no doubt influenced by the travel restrictions that continue to come and go. Inspired by isolation, ‘Room in That Bottle’ tackles loneliness (“It looks like it’s just you and me / The chair right beside you is free / If someone was coming they’d be here by now / Maybe some things just weren’t meant to be”), the gentle harmonies on the chorus adding to the pathos.
Even songs that weren’t ostensibly inspired by the pandemic have their roots in thoughts Studholme had due to the isolation of the situation, ‘Funfair on Shephard’s Bush Green’ being one such example: a sadly beautiful story of a brief romantic encounter and the subsequent wondering about what could have been. “When I walked you home after midnight / I thought that my heart would explode,” Studholme sings of the first flush of romance – his vocals, lilting with a rough edge, are a pleasant contrast with the delicate piano melody that accompanies them. Ultimately though, his paramour moves away to Toronto, only for a chance encounter to occur years in the future: “I was just coming back from the funfair / Holding hands with my son / By the time that you’d seen us a train came between us / When the doors opened up, you got on / When the train pulled away you were gone.”
On the gentle ‘Kathleen O’Hare’, we hear about a lucky first meeting that would go on to become a long and happy marriage: “He had a face, full of punched out lights / She was out with her friends, on Saturday night / She bent down, said are you alright / He said I might be dead or I might be seeing the light.” While strings are plentiful throughout, they’re used most effectively on the final track ‘Let Me Rest My Eyes’, conveying beauty even in weariness.
The global catastrophe that is the pandemic has indeed inspired many of the albums and singles we’re seeing come through, but rarely has it felt as natural and organic a process as the songwriting we’re seeing here. So even if you’re suffering from a bit of post-lockdown album fatigue, this one might just help you remember that some of the art created during that time really is worth a spin.