Dear Life is another of those seriously sincere “arty” albums that respond to the times we live in, perhaps trying to make sense of it and certainly urging us to deal with societal, environmental, and personal tragedies and to cherish life.
On the compelling, black-and-white cover, two dirty, defiant children, both maybe 12 years old, stand in front of a beat-up trailer home staring directly into the camera, ready for confrontation. The boy has a pistol tucked into his jeans. That’s the tragic part. On the back cover, two big heavily and grotesquely tattooed arms cuddle an infant. That’s the “cherish” part.
Rupert Wates, London-born and New York-based, has a tenor voice a bit like Paul McCartney’s and adds acoustic guitar to his vocal performances and is accompanied by bass and percussion, the pleasant music contrasting with the heavy, wordy folk-pop lyrics. Recorded mostly in single takes in the studio with no overdubs to capture the live feel (or to save money on expensive studio time), it is, on its own terms, a strong album.
In the title song, he asks whether we’ll ever learn to love the way we should. In “A Meter of Ground,” he laments that daddy was a coal miner and he himself is just a soldier fighting for oil. “Please God” could be about New Orleans and Katrina or some other tragedy.
It’s not quite all doom and gloom, though; hope glitters.
In “Elegy for the Coming Man,” Wates laments the legacy we leave while acknowledging that “a still, small voice will always ring like the wave falling on the sand.” In “Blackness of the Night,” a woman sits in a bar waiting for the lover she misses while, at another table, a party goes on. We all plan to take a chance on life, to go “down that road that leads out of sight … that leads from this room full of noise and light to the blackness of the night.” Somehow, it sounds promising.
Wates, who does 150 or so gigs across the United States every year, has proven popular in his adopted country. Songs from his previous album, 2007′s Coast to Coast, are played on more than 300 U.S. college radio stations. Dear Life is a good, emotionally heavy collection; we’ve just heard it all before. Maybe we’ll continue to listen, or maybe we’ll just tune it all out.