Album Review: Ben Watt – Hendra2 min read
English musician Ben Watt has finally released his second solo album 31 years after his debut.
Why the long wait? Watt and Tracey Thorn (who only became his wife a few years ago) worked together as the British pop duo Everything But The Girl (EBTG), behind legendary hits in the 1990s like Missing. After nearly two decades, EBTG disbanded so that the couple could focus on raising a family and pursue solo projects.
Hendra, which means home or farmstead in Old Cornish, reflects Watt’s family life post-EBTG and journey through middle-age.
The title track welcomes listeners to the album with Watt’s persona lamenting about not having done much with his life. These themes of regret and reflection are evident on most of the other tracks on Hendra. There’s Forget, a chirpy mid-tempo with a lively Rhodes piano-driven arrangement (though it is let down by a chorus whose breaks don’t allow any hooks to stick). The captivating closer The Heart Is a Mirror deals with powerless househusbands standing idly as their wives become the sole breadwinners. The stark contrast of summery strumming guitars with loud, unsettling synths that belong either on a 1970s or mid 1990s R&B record effectively reflects the unfulfilled dreams of such men who wish to ‘travel to escape’ themselves. Watt also risks being stuck in the past on tracks like the punchy Nathaniel, which clearly tributes mid-1960s Beatles.
Despite Spring being a bit of dirge for a track that claims to ‘say goodbye to winter’ and sounding like a watered-down version of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On, Watt is able to bring sexy back on the groovy, chilled Golden Ratio. This track is another source of escapism for listeners, as its light percussion and well-tempered guitar licks conjure a perfect tropical sunset. The Gun is another sweaty but pleasant piece that recalls early 1970s Santana (think Evil Ways or Black Magic Woman), whilst appearing to take a swipe at lax gun laws and gated communities.
Ben Watt may not have the strongest nor most distinctive voice, but his efforts on Hendra are enjoyable for the listener overall. His instrumental performances are of high-quality, delivering musical landscapes are expansive at times. Hendra may just be the soothing companion to a man’s mid-life crisis.