The idea of the acoustic protest singer is out of fashion these days. Unless you’re Frank Turner. But it isn’t entirely clear that you can class playing stadiums with a professional backing band while you drop you’re carefully considered one-liners to a synchronised light show as being an acoustic “protest singer”. Which isn’t to say that Martyn McKenzie is a protest singer, but with “Old Lands” he’s brought together the emotive tugging of introspective acoustic music together with a thought-provoking political message. When was the last time someone like Frank Turner did that? Excepting that time he put the word ‘fuck’ in a song.
“Old Lands” is a track that relies on simplicity. It’s built on forlorn guitars and a melancholic, yet hopeful, male/female vocal interplay. A gentle and intimate song that its easy to imagine being played right in front of you. Though instrumentally sparse, the track is vocally rich with both McKenzie and Mairi McAllan turning in brilliant and varied performances that manage to keep the song compelling for its lengthy 5.58 running time.
Lyrically its pro-Scottish Independence slant isn’t exactly subtle, but it won’t cover your face in self-righteous spit either. It’d be easy to imagine someone attaching another meaning to the song, which may count it as a failure as a piece of political rhetoric, but certainly speaks volume about its accessibility and relatable nature as a piece of art.
The single’s B-side “Spring Muse” is a pretty different affair. A synth pop based electronic affair that displays the similar melodic sensibility of “Old Lands” in an entirely different way. At times it comes across like a less dramatic and more hesitant Depeche Mode track from their “Songs of Faith and Devotion” period. If Dave Gahan indulged a falsetto and had a habit of dropping the odd heavily Scottish inflection into his songs.
An odd collection of two distinct and different sounds, but both display a sophisticated command of melody and a penchant for simplicity. There’s a lot worse approaches to song-writing to take. It’ll be interesting to see how a longer form release will develop these ideas.
“Old Lands” is available now digitally via Bandcamp or iTunes.