Monday, 3 October 2016

Album Review: The Cardiac Hotel by The Lion And The Wolf (by Emma Prew)

The Lion And The Wolf is the name by which solo artist Tom George is better known by in the musical world. I’ve known about him, and been a fan of his, since 2014 when I saw him supporting Billy The Kid on her UK tour. I’ve seen him a couple of times since then and am always mesmerised by his beautiful yet heartbreakingly melancholic songs. He’s also a super lovely chap – I once had a conversation with him at a Restorations gig about how his glasses had broken and being semi-blind was pretty rubbish – because I can relate. The Lion And The Wolf has recently signed to Xtra Mile – something that I personally saw coming a long time ago – and they are releasing his second album, The Cardiac Hotel, on 7th October. I got to take an early listen.

The album opens with Don’t Fail Me Now. After a quiet first few seconds, there is something that sounds an awful lot like a church organ (it probably is an organ of some kind) setting a somewhat haunting tone. There is reverb on Tom’s vocals which  pairs well with the organ and is somewhat of a style for him. It’s a hugely atmospheric song and an excellent album opener with the beautiful lyrics. ‘Love, Don’t fail me now. This time around, Don’t fail me now.’ And it feels like something special is about to happen…

I’ve always said that Tom sounds a lot like the late great Elliott Smith – although this is usually towards people who unfortunately (for them) don’t know who he is (or was). The second track on The Cardiac Hotel, Heaven Forbid, instantly brought to  
mind Mr Smith for me – both musically and vocally. Lyrically the song speaks of contrasts between light and dark, heaven and hell (‘shake hands with the devil’). ‘I had light in my soul, Through the darkest of love truth be told.’ 

For My Father’s Eyes, the volume and tempo are cranked up a bit. This is a song that I have heard live before and so I know the story behind it. Tom’s dad was very sick and was in hospital for a while and this song, as well as much of the album, was inspired by that time. There’s so much emotion and personal feelings packed into My Father’s Eyes that you almost feel like you’re intruding a little – or perhaps being allowed privileged access into Tom’s world. ‘Eyes, I’ve got my father’s eyes. Blind, Blind from time to time.’

Musically, the tone shifts slightly for The Hospital Floor but the theme of sickness remains. Despite this subject matter, the song has a positive feel to it – ‘Well I'll see you on the other side.’ is sung as the music gets louder. The 3 minute mark sees the music quieten for a time while Tom repeats the phrase ‘breathe in, breathe out’ and incidentally when I was listening to the album for the first time I was lying on my bed blissfully watching the clouds out of the window – almost meditating. So you heard it here first, The Lion And The Wolf is perfect meditation music!

The pace picks up a bit with Walk On The Moon, a track in which the piano playing really stands out. There are quite a few different instruments on The Cardiac Hotel which is really great to hear, especially as I’ve only ever seen The Lion And The Wolf with an acoustic guitar. The lyrics are excellent as ever – ‘You're the thorn in my side, You're the reason the rocks roll away with the tide.’ There’s also a clip of a train announcement followed by a neat little piano solo towards the end of song – lovely.

Then, just when I mention all the instruments on the album, Tom strips things back again for The Pinching Point. This song is all about the acoustic guitar and Tom’s reverberated vocals. Again, this is a very Elliott Smith-sounding song but with a hint of Death Cab For Cutie too – think I Will Follow You Into The Dark. However it is Tom's distinct vocals and lyrics that really stand out. The song is about dealing with sickness, and potentially death, of someone close to you. ‘Now she doesn’t have to grieve at the finish line.’

Barstools is another track that I've heard live before but, of course, the recorded version is quite different. Barstools is a slow burner of a track, gradually building and building. There are some gentle vocal harmonies in the background at one point and elongated chords on an organ. The middle of the song even features a brass section – a lot more of an orchestral sound than the live version I’m familiar with. The song ends with probably my favourite lyrics of the album – ‘So go, go be the lion I know you can be. Because you got what you wanted, You got what you wanted, You got what you wanted, You wanted from me.’

Starting off as a fairly melancholic and calm track, December is one of the quieter tracks of the album with some gentle melodic guitar playing from the outset. The heartfelt lyrics are excellent as ever – ‘Trying to speak and screaming aloud, My hands are weak and now, The body I have is a ghost town. I want to be right back there in the middle, I want to let the light back in.’

The lovely melodic guitar then continues for the start of Past The Point Of Fair but, just when you thought it was going to stay this way, the volume gets turned up a notch. The song is an affirmative one with positive lyrics – ‘We make the rules up when we’re there, We don’t need them, We don’t have the time to spare, But we've got the time to care so deal with it.’

As the album begins to draw to a close, the penultimate track, Witness, brings a particularly soulful feel to The Cardiac Hotel – ‘I’m a glorified sinner.’. Singing of being a ‘hopeless romantic’ and ‘falling down again’, Tom has a way of speaking about his own feelings as well as those of many of the listeners at the same time. Soft piano, guitars and Tom’s poignant vocals definitely bring a sense of the album coming to an end. 

And as all good things must, The Cardiac Hotel comes to an end with Find The Time – and an ending in style at that. Don’t Fail Me Now started off the album, setting an atmospheric tone and so does Find The Time finish the album. The song comes complete with some of the most relatable lyrics on The Cardiac Hotel, speaking of how we never seem to have enough time to see friends and do the things we want to in our busy lives, this is definitely one of the standout tracks. ‘How can we ever find the time? Clocks on walls are never right, Through the looking glass, Time not on your side. You know where I am.’ Around 3 minutes into the song the music gets louder, faster and more intense with seemingly a small orchestra thrown in for good measure… and then it ends. A perfect ending.

It might not be the sort of album for everyone, and it’s far from some of the more typically punk-sounding artists that are more often featured on this blog, but I loved The Cardiac Hotel. It is beautiful and atmospheric, with a great sense of hope throughout. I bought tickets to see Will Varley at Union Chapel in November as soon as I heard The Lion And The Wolf would be supporting – I like Will anyway but the addition of Tom really sold it for me. His songs played in a magnificent old London church is going to be magical.

You can find The Lion And The Wolf on Facebook here and buy the album here.

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