Scottish singer-songwriter Alex Cornish follows contributions to several soundtracks including that of TV show Private Practice, critically lauded previous effort No Shore and supporting gigs for Kathryn Williams and Alison Moyet with his fourth album. Beyond the Serenade is a reflective collection, well suited to a listen at the end of a long day. Opener Footnote on the Page warms things up nicely, with its almost painfully slow strings, suspenseful thigh claps and drawn out lyric delivery. The song finally leaps from the mountain top two minutes in, bringing warmth in its optimistic piano flicks, gentle harmonies and measured strings.
Cornish’s rhythm of choice on this album is the waltz. The one-two-three, one-two-three beat generates a sense of grandeur appropriate for a Viennese ballroom. One example of a romantic waltz here is the sweeping First and Last, an autumn-tinged musing about love that majestically erupts in its theatrical strings-assisted and melodically ornate chorus. Downstream takes listeners out to sea, as the slightest flamenco kick and plucking guitars recreate the sensation of waves, which crash triumphantly in a flame of exuberant accordion and blaring trumpets. How I’m Meant To Be is as reassuring and hopeful as its subject matter (about someone who is resolved to ‘seize the day’ and be who he is).
The Scotsman’s solid songwriting translates well on the louder moments too. Everywhere I Go melds distorted guitar and saxophone with harmonica and an overall country feel rather well, as its constantly rising chorus and jolly background piano riff allows it to hit the ground running like an energised jogger first thing in the morning. The Pine and the Birch is unexpectedly bombastic and brash, thanks to its hardened drums and penetrative brass. Give Me Time kicks off as a typical, sincere acoustic guitar ballad before exploding with drive and elation that makes it a worthy concert set closer.
The eerie, stirring Work The Fields starts off slow but ultimately proves to be a fine example of the atmospheric film or TV soundtrack music Cornish is capable of making. I’ll Never Learn gently sprints with anticipation, taking moments to reflect through its dark, moody piano chords and soothing vocal harmonies that cleanse like a waterfall. Drives Me On gets a bit boring after a while, but the intimate Again and Again is buoyed by its insisting, memorable ‘again and again’ hook. Nothing In Return is an introspective, ominous but satisfying closer with regretful lyrics and computerised sound effects that whir like a fan and suddenly cut out, as if the click of a switch turns off a human race already taken over by machines.
To quote the album closer, Cornish has ‘played (his) part’ well in serenading, then confronting listeners about the ups and downs of life.