Tue. May 28th, 2024

Renowned For Sound

For the latest music reviews and interviews

Album Review: The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars

3 min read

The Civil Wars are, without a doubt, a beautiful union – or, should I say, ‘were’ – as despite this release of their eponymous release, the country duo are, it seems, no more. Calling an indefinite hiatus (specifically cited as ‘internal discourse and irreconcilable differences of ambition’) which resulted in the cancellation of a tour, certainly raises eyebrows in regards to the severity of the animosity involved, however the pair – Joy Williams and John Paul White – both promised to record the songs that were written the previous summer.

the civil wars 2013Naming an album after the band itself is generally done by artists to reinforce that the content found on there sums up what they are about better than anything that was released previously. That The Civil Wars self-titled album is accompanied by cover art in the form of billowing smoke can’t help but be interpreted as ominous symbolism in light of internal conflict. Fittingly, it is all only reinforced by the songs themselves, making it almost impossible to not speculate over the nature of the tension, as the album is that impassioned and intense.

The opening lines of the first track, The One That Got Away, sees Williams singing in hushed tones ‘I never meant to get us in this deep, I never never meant for this to mean a thing… I wish you were the one that got away’. For opening lines, it feels rather telling. That aside, the composition lulls the listener into a false sense of security before exploding into a wall of sound at its peak. The bluesy I Had Me A Girl switches between the viewpoint of both man and woman in a relationship, whilst things slow down in the beautifully bittersweet Same Old Same Old (which almost borders on sickly Lady Antebellum territory) and the sombrely haunting Dust To Dust. The latter sees White state ‘You’re like a mirror reflecting me’, with Williams striking back with ‘Takes one to know one, take it from me’, before both join forces to whisper the final lyrics of ‘We’ve been lonely too long’.

The lyrics of the entire album carry an overpowering essence of poignancy, almost to the point that it becomes overbearing and uncomfortable, but the strength of the songs themselves manage to prevent it from becoming merely a sombre country cesspit. Devil’s Backbone is one such song, as whilst it reeks of the religious and country undertones of the South, it has a foreboding aura that makes it captivating, with the quiver in Williams’ voice being enough to make the hardiest of listeners weep. The voices of the duo are stellar, proving that they are worth every ounce of acclaim lauded upon them – the final note, Williams hits on Oh Henry is incredibly impressive. There are a few surprises, Sacred Heart for instance has Williams singing entirely in French, whilst a surprise cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ Disarm sees the pent up bitterness of Billy Corgan’s original exchanged for absolute vulnerability.

For all the country clichés woven into this album, the songs on The Civil Wars somehow manage to eschew the looming sickliness. Every corner of it sounds beautiful, and as always, the voices of Williams and White are honed to impressive precision. That said, at time it all feels a little awkward, akin to the listener being the neighbour that overhears a bitter altercation between Mr and Mrs-picket-fence-2.5-kids who live next door, however the bitter songs are by far the best songs. That aside, the true pinnacle of The Civil Wars are the voices of both White and Williams themselves; the rougher tone of White compliments the angelic sound of Williams in a way that no written description really does justice. They blend beautifully, seamlessly, to the point of audial perfection, and one can only be glad this album was completed, in every ounce of its bittersweet glory.