Album Review: Sturgill Simpson – Sound and Fury

A car door slams and a V8 engine is gunned into life before a scratchy FM radio informs us that “the problem with this country is consumption… we consume too much.” The radio crackles and distorts, the engine howls and the car heads down a highway of destruction before the opening track from Sturgill Simpson’s insanely impressive new record eventually emerges from the maelstrom.

It’s a hugely atmospheric introduction to Sound and Fury and the title of the first track is a prescient one. ‘Ronin’ is a brooding, bone-shaking instrumental full of snarling guitars that brings to mind those darkly atmospheric moments in a Michael Mann movie. He was a filmmaker who specialised in contemporary tales of nomadic, masterless warriors, and this is what Simpson appears to have become on this record. You don’t have to read too far between the lines to appreciate that he’s crafted a record in direct response to the dollar signs that popped up in people’s eyes after the Grammy success of the magnificent A Sailor’s Guide to Earth. It’s also a return to something more uninhibited after time spent reflecting following the birth of his third son. It’s been time well spent because this album is perhaps Simpson’s most satisfying.

What makes it so rewarding is the completely unpredictable journey we embark upon, and Simpson is our road warrior at the wheel. ‘Remember to Breathe’ emerges from the ashes of the opening track bearing some kind of sleazy Kasabian beat behind Simpson’s still country-fied vocals. It’s his musical approach that is so, so rewarding on this record though, and appears to be a monumental fuck you to decision makers hoping for a repeat success of the last album. The pounding Black Keys rhythms are complimented by an impudent, fuzzy guitar on first single ‘Sing Along’ confirming the heavier approach.

Crunching gear shifts occur throughout though and there’s a literal grinding of metal on metal before the pounding disco-glam of ‘A Good Look’ kicks in. This is followed by another abrasive gear change as the synth ambience intro of ‘Make Art Not Friends’ generates a brooding atmosphere, completely failing to prepare us for the song’s lyrical drive and ZZ Top inspired melody and when Simpson sings, “This town is getting crowded. Truth’s been shrouded. I think it’s time to change up the sound”, you better believe it!

Prior to the release of the record and the accompanying $1.2 million Manga film which compliments it, Simpson exclaimed that this is all in response to “hegemonic structures, politics, corruption, greed.” These concepts are certainly tangible lyrically, but on tracks like ‘Last Man Standing’ we’re also treated to a potent, two minute blast of old fashioned rock and roll. This is followed by ‘Mercury in Retrograde’, which is perhaps the most overt comment on the industry that he seemed to lose faith in. This glam rocking, disco-infused, grunge-textured Frankenstein monster of a record will hopefully restore some of those convictions.

Iain Fox

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