Christopher Owens’ is one of the most talented songwriters in modern music, of this there can be no doubt. Throughout his, so far, short career he has never failed to write elegant and emotive pop songs and his most recent output ‘Lysandre’ is no exception to his standard. Yet there is a marked difference to this record, and a particular reason many of his fans will scrutinise it far more than his previous efforts. For this is Christopher Owens, going it alone.
Previously part of Girls, his songs have essentially been the output of a duo, working with RJ White who produced the songs and played bass in Girls during live dates. Having been lucky enough to have seen Girls live in London last summer, it was clear to me what a special band they were and I was suitably distraught when I heard that they had separated. However the news, remarkably soon after the announcement of Girls’ split, that Christopher Owens first solo album was on its way, was a great relief - the assurance that Owens was far from disappearing.
The album itself affirms this reassurance. His song writing is in full force, dancing with themes from the past 50 years of pop to some marvelous effect. Notable highlight ‘A Broken Heart’ crafts a tender ballad from rolling acoustic plucking and Owens’ typically frank lyrical stylings. ‘And I wish it hadn’t happened to us/You fell in love with that girl’, may read as a blunt, ineffective lyric on paper but once achingly performed by Owens, it carries all the intense melancholy of a mysterious love affair somehow gone wrong. This love affair is the albums concept, chronicling a brief relationship Owens had whilst on tour in France. The concept runs through the album lyrically but also returns with a leitmotif - ‘Lysander’s Theme’. Often this is very effective, placing the name Lysandre on the listeners lips at most song’s end. Yet on other occasions the theme is less effective, almost sounding like a between-scene transition theme in an 80s soap opera. This sums up the only place that Lysandre sometimes falls down. Owens’ clear passion for hosting an eclectic sphere of influence in his writing is always fascinating, but whereas on Girls’ records it maintained edge and character, at times Lysandre leans in the direction of pastiche. Riviera Rock a particular example of a track that feels almost like a live band simply improvising the same tune in as many different styles as they can think of.
Yet these complaints disintegrate under the glow of Owens’ brilliant songwriting. Ultimately there are few other names in current music who have a track record as solid as his. Lysandre is no exception to his refined skill for carving pop songs with classical qualities. There are elements of the album that do miss the the slightly more ominous presence that lived inside many Girls songs. Some may argue this is the missing element of RJ White’s production, yet it is far more likely that this album marks an unrestricted Christopher Owens learning and nurturing his companionless voice. It isn’t an immaculate conception, but it is a refreshing and spirited effort that leaves us demanding more from an incredibly talented song writer.
Words: Angus Harrison