John O’Connor and his bandmates of John Blek and The Rats set out with a purpose when they started recording their second album in the winter of 2014. After their debut “Leave Your Love At The Door” the band wanted to achieve a “cohesive sonic richness” using their strengths to explore light and dark, “examining the notions of right and wrong; to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed.”
John claims that the writing came quiet naturally and actually it does sound like they hit the ground running with this second album. The themes all tie in together and sonically it links from the first chord of “Guard My Borders” to the last of “Tooth and Nail”. If True Detective was looking for the sound track to season 3 they would look no further with the band’s blend of Americana, fuzzy guitar, dark folk and surrealism. Despite the band’s throwback sound the topics are fresh and current.
On one hand with ‘Guard My Borders’ could be a love song on the other you could easily debate it’s about the current migrant crisis in Europe. It’s eerie and ghostly like the land they’ve left behind. If you need further evidence reference the lyrics. “Falling out of focus// The lines we’ve drawn have become blurred”, “I won’t back down// I fight my corners”. We find a similar theme in “Funeral Home”. We definitely have the “to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed” aspect in the song with its dark theme. “I met my love in the funeral home// she was as pale as the sheets that adorned her” “She was a beauty amongst her deceased// Such a pity I timed it so badly”. Amongst the soaring harmonies of the choir was she his Snow White that he failed to save? “All the blood drained from her lips.” Then again, it could be another nod to conflict in our present time. “Ring the bell and hope she’ll grow again//like a bloom in the most barren old graveyard”. On the up-tempo “Brothers” we have a clear call to put down arms saying “The truth you know is from the books they wrote”. We hear familiar words spoken a thousand times over thousands of years. “Though we speak the truth they call us liars!” “My brother I don’t want to do this anymore// my sister don’t be blinded”. “Tooth and Nail” is set in an apocalyptic world and calls out another mire of our time, the politicians. “I scale aside a mountain to stand upon the peak// and watch the cities burn while the others turn the other cheek”, “The politicians lie//they blame it on bureaucracy//say everything takes time// nothing changes here ‘cept the unemployment line”, and they are not done yet telling the listener to wipe the blood from their forehead and not let the barriers stop their protests.
And when John Blek and The Rats aren’t calling out the current state of affairs they are delving into the darkness of our psyche. “Wandering Child” is the lead single off the album. It reminds me of Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train” whose video still haunts me to this day. “I found you walking out on a cold December night// the frost lay low the cloud follow// As you disappeared from sight// let the wicked wind take you away// May you be in heaven before the devil knows your dead// may the road rise to meet you as you walk ahead”. No one knows what happened to the wandering child so we’ll just let our dark imaginations take over from here. “Infirmary” is full of anticipation and suspense. “I can see the faces above me// Calling me home// I can hear the voice calling me// Willing me home”. The mellowness of “Wicked Am I” belies the tale of modern living it depicts. “Atlas once stood with the world on his shoulder// Now it’s my turn”, “This is no way to live// Some things got to give// this is no way to live me dear”
And then we come across “Dance With The Devil” a song of love so evident it calls into question my earlier declarations on the album’s theme. Overtly sexual and knowing it depicts the dance undertaken by those who choose the dance of love and the bonds it holds them with. Or is it prophetic in its last line, “We know it’s going to last forever”? So here we have an album of two levels which talks of love and juxtaposes it with a world of conflict. An album rooted in a bygone era while dealing with modern topics. An album so self assured that it doesn’t need to scream and shout what it’s about but saunters in and lets you make up your own mind. Written, recorded and mastered in Cork under Christian Best it feels like John Blek And The Rats laughed in the face of the idea of a difficult second album and said “pah”.
You can follow the band on all social media as well as http://johnblekandtherats.com/
Before returning to Germany you can catch John Blek And The Rats
Sept 24/25th – Coughlan’s, Cork
Oct 2nd – Cleere’s Bar and Theatre, Kilkenny
Nov 5th – The Workman’s Club, Dublin
Nov 8th – The Pine Lodge, Myrtleville