Mick Head just scored his first top 10 record, after 40 years of trying.
The LP, Dear Scott, is great. Seriously, it’s a fucking masterpiece.
I’m astounded at how Mick has honed everything he’s learned from writing for 40 years and captured its essence.
The flow of this long player is so important, only Kismet jumped out at me at first, the rest glide by, before coming into focus, sharper details illuminating the lyrical characters against a backdrop of lush layers of strings, brass and guitars.
Arrangements are fluid, but sometimes arresting, Mick throwing in changes that surprise but immediately feel right.
Stand out track after stand out track, it really builds into something more than their individual parts, their power coming from what came before, so that by The Ten I’m levitating on waves of love, heart open pounding along to the strummed rhythm, melodies washing over me, spine tingling, skin shimmering bliss.
All of this is rounded out by the fact this is the most sober set of songs he’s probably ever written, every note shining in clear sight, knowing the drugs have a downside, the booze too. Hitting rock bottom over and over hurts, but also shapes the soul, finally realising and releasing into some kind of bliss, free of the old attachments. This deep, real connection to the lived reality of life, expressing it the only way he knows how; a life’s struggle becomes this beautiful chart-topping thing, A rare later life blossoming he never dared to dream.
I am so fucking chuffed for Mick, never have I witnessed an artist more deserving of his time in the sun. I’ve been listening to him for so long his voice in the headphones sounds like mine. Every lyric can be sung, every note air played, riding the emotions they provoke, the memories of so many gigs, the shared joy, when the magic is in the air, his struggles and victories are ours.
Kismet – great riff to open, then the classic Mick on his knees building chords to the sky. Dead pan wit singing about charging his phone and feeling blessed, then a nod with the ‘mood of the morning’ lyric to Waterpistol. It’s just a perfect start to the LP, with the epic ‘ohhhoho’ end bringing epic resolution, and it’s only track one!
Broken Beauty – in lesser hands the subject could be mawkish, but this story of inner strength and redemption is plaintiff and quietly anthemic, as the upbeat first half morphs into this reflective second part that coaxes a heartfelt ending from Mick.
Shack’s Waterpistol – “Out of poverty and hedonism came beauty, truth and love”
Next day – a bliss filled drifter that sets the mood for the LP, the drumming is all light brush touches on the snare and hats, beat skipping along with the “bah bah bah”s before dropping into some laidback heavily reverbed guitar, a flute adding accents and wild flourishes, to stop it sinking into anything too heavy This is a joyful look forward to the coming day.
Freedom – acoustic layers, guitars closely mic’d for that intimate vibe, Mick’s voice clear and soft swimming along with it all, until an instrumental break that references The Magical World of the Strands, it clear blows my mind off.
American Kid – drops us back into storytelling, the full band kicking in to bring us out of the haze, a lovely change up. The story, a high rise life being lived in the Hollywood of the kids imagination, sets the imagery up for the next tune, and the LP overall.
Grace and Eddie – ragtime country blues and original songs, it’s what he plays, if anyone’s asking. Strings take us into a swing with some old time swagger.
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Fluke – the boulevard of fractured dreams, the place we know so well. Those strings swell, a piano tinkles, Mick croons for his life. Someone put a suit on him, he’s turning into old blue eyes, with his throw away cabaret banter about his Auntie May. You know he’s dreaming about being in LA, some sepia tinged hazy days, drifting though glamorous lounges in his crumpled best.
This is the one. Dripping in soul, it aches so loudly, pulling you in with deep organ chords, stirring something hidden within. The emotional release realized in a middle eight surrounded by California hazy sunshine dreams; The Byrds evoked to great effect once-more.
Gino and Rico – orchestral intro that drops into a solid as fuck groove, gently strummed and picked dual guitar giving it a sense of urgency. Fuller electric guitar picks up the melody driving it into a break, when it comes back in, subtle strings are added, supporting a signature change. The mariachi shuffle comes in, this lesson from Arthur Lee he loves to drop, the trumpet adding the top line to bring it all home, then another layer as Mick adds his “oh oh oh”s on top of the brass, the lead guitar reminiscent of his brother John. It all seems to be freaking him out, life is for living and living is for life.
“I should have known better, I didn’t know at all, didn’t get the call, I wouldn’t know it all.”
The lift that welcomes the finale is one of the finest things he’s ever done, every single time it brings me to tears of joy, an inner dimension opens up, that soulful magic he unlocked with the strands comes roaring back.
The Grass – the stuff you smoke or the one that flirts with you, only to get you to spill something she can sell? She’ll help you, she’ll embrace you, whatever it takes. Or maybe it is the Grass we smoke, that entices us with her promises of bliss, ensnaring our will to its own demands, the Grass will help you, she’ll help you along. She’ll feed you, protect you, whatever it takes. Then the grass will take you before you’re awake.
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The Ten – acoustic intro dropping into the most powerful groove the Red Elastic Band have conjured so far, The bus into town, the same journey he’s done all his life, inspires a new level of songwriting, the journey down familiar roads, past the abattoir, to the market, the fruit and veg, grab yourself a cart. Magic woven from an everyday chore, the Scouse alchemist transforming the mundane into epic tales that evoke some intangible mysteries of the mind.
Pretty Child – one day she blew away the city life, and all we had left was the play, building into those big acoustic chords that sees Mick back on his knees, to be lifted by some Sgt Major lead guitar.
Shirls Ghost – What’s left of bar-room Mick, hitting the keys of an old upright, playing one more crying into your beer tune for the night.
A set of songs I’ve grown to love since first hearing them in back in May, by a songwriter I’ve loved for 35 years, who’s career goes back over 40, Album of the year is a given, hats doffed to Mick and the Red Elastic lads.
One reply on “Michael Head’s Dear Scott: My Album of the Year”
T.he comment “I’ve been listening to him for so long his voice in the headphones sounds like mine.” was perfect
I’ve not heard any other artist with such a blinding mix of tunes, lyrics, vocals and melodies.