Destroyer is an artist of repute on Ken

KenThere’s been something of the concept album about Destroyer’s last two records. Kaputt, which stands out as Dan Bejar’s masterpiece, was a tribute to 70s and 80s easy listening, drawing fully on his eclectic range of influences and – after years of putting out obtuse, baroque albums – finally represented something coherent enough for mainstream success (even if it was by accident).

While it seems odd to say this of a 40-something artist, follow up Poison Season seemed to represent Bejar reaching some sort of artistic maturity, in following the eminently listenable Kaputt with an even more restrained record. This time we had Bejar as the leader of a big band, oscillating between Spingsteen-esque bombast and smooth jazz – a formal commentary on his new status as an artist of repute. Even the album cover, a seated, isolated Bejar staring into the middle distance, alluded to this – a cultish pedlar of riddles coming to terms with his late-career fame.

Ken, we’re told, arose from Bejar’s discovery of the original name of Suede’s “Wild Ones”, which he believes is one the of the finest English-language ballads of the past 150 years or so (nothing on “Greensleeves” though).  He goes on to say that, actually, the record has nothing to do with Suede; he was thinking, instead, about the last years of the Thatcher administration. Well, you can hear that he sounds like he’s been hammering the New Order in particular. “In the Morning”, with its sparkling synth refrain and its metallic guitar tone might have been lifted from anywhere between Power, Corruption & Lies and Technique. Elsewhere, “Cover From the Sun” could easily be the Stone Roses. “Saw You at the Hospital” has more than a little of The Cure about it. You get the idea…

Love Destroyer's Ken? See Dan Bejar live in Brighton, London or Manchester this November.

Like its two predecessors, Ken is distinctly easy on the ear. There’s not really a poor song on it, though closer “La Regle de Jeu” is a little bit cringe-worthy (The Chameleons, that one). The law of diminishing returns, however, leaves us still thinking back to Kaputt, six years on. Indeed, second single “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood” is perfect vintage Destroyer, and may well have been an offcut from said album.

Indeed, he’s at his strongest referring to the melancholy mode of that informed that album. “A Light Travels Down the Catwalk” and “Rome” are lush and evocative, while lead single “Sky’s Grey” is up there with “Chinatown” for mood-setting opening tracks, and also features the album’s best line, “The groom’s in the gutter, the bride just pissed herself.”

Ken won’t win anyone over to the cause; even die-hard fans will find Bejar telling us in his trademark inflection that, “I’ve been working on the new Oliver Twist, over and over again in the same song in somewhat insufferable. For fans, it’s definitely a worthy entry in the canon, though by no means at the game-changing heights of Destroyer’s Rubies or Kaputt.

Release: 20th October 2017, Dead Oceans

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