10 Track, LP (2013, Fire)
Related: Tom Morgan.
“I’m not broke, I’m just not working.” It seems silly to talk about Orange Syringe when Tom Morgan’s already nailed all the best lines. As a younger man, the Smudge leader and Lemonheads associate carved out a persona as a slacker smart-arse with a heart of gold. It may be no surprise, but it’s nonetheless a pleasure to hear Morgan grow more pensive, slightly more bitter and no less funny as he pushes into elder statesman territory.
Like anything else he’s done, Orange Syringe is built around Morgan’s lyrics, which tumble out in asides, stage whispers and fragments of stories. He very rarely tells it to you straight, but Morgan has the ability to string together lazy rhymes that, while deft and amusing, don’t really mean a great deal at first. By the time a song like ‘Best Thing for Baby’ plays out, though, you realise that the clever bugger’s painted an entire emotional landscape. More than mere evasiveness, all the wordplay creates a picture that’s clearer, more sympathetic and more unflinching than if he had just laid it right on you.
In terms of song mechanics, Morgan pulls a similar trick. Chord progressions and contrasting moods tend to fly past in quick succession, moments that a lesser writer would stretch into an entire song. There is no joy without sadness, and similarly, there is humour in even life’s grimmest moments: Tom Morgan’s songs can be so effective not because they speak of these truisms, but because they embody them. The haunting ‘One True Love’ demonstrates this, offering up Southern Gothic imagery that is all the more creepy for being interwoven with more mundane images: bumper stickers and fuzzy mirror dice. Likewise, the ominous verses give way to the bittersweet refrain and vice versa, like an argument that remains unresolved.
The aural elements against which Morgan sets these words all tend to know their place – they’re low-key, to the point of self-effacement. The drums-bass-electric-acoustic (with occasional organ) backing offers minimal rhythmic and melodic adornment, and just about the only time that your ears prick up is when a dinky little seven-note riff periodically pops up on the excellent ‘Taste For Blood’. If the album has a major weakness, it lies in these minimal arrangements. Subject to aesthetic preference, they are not a problem in themselves. But when the quality of Morgan’s words lapse, there’s no hiding. Kevin Shields might be able to sing, “I’ve been stubborn, even sodomized” – for all I know, he does – and get away with it, but Tom Morgan can’t.
Of course, the flipside to all this is the way that time seems to stand still on Orange Syringe’s best moments. ‘One True Love’, ‘Taste For Blood’ and ‘Mess With The Bull’. The latter manages to distil all the frustrations and regrets of a life-long also-ran, while still garnering sympathy for its protagonist and sneaking in an album’s worth of punchlines.
by Edward Sharp-Paul