The Hearsay blog » On writing reviews and listening to Jules Shear

 0 Comments- Add comment | Back to Blog Written on 09-Dec-2008 by ewencadenmoore

One of the key elements of Hearsay which is not represented on these pages was in-depth album reviews. We published hundreds of these during our print lifetime, and many were upwards of a thousand words in length. Typically, this was an opportunity for us to really get to grips with an artist’s newest release, placing it in their canon and analysing or appreciating what had gone into producing it. It was sometimes a bit of a struggle when we had a box of CDs containing new releases (which was kept under Neil’s hi-fi) that we felt we ought to cover but about which we cared little or knew nothing. But when it was a new release by one of our favourite artists, we had to operate a strict system of rotation to ensure that we didn’t descend into the music magazine equivalent of the English civil war.


At present, we have no plans to revive this part of Hearsay. As Neil says, elsewhere on this site, it’s a real pleasure to be able to listen to new music without feeling that we have to constantly pick it apart, ready for review. But occasionally an album comes along that, in the grand Hearsay tradition, is a magnificent work of art which gets totally ignored by the world at large. It’s a pleasure to report that More, the new album by Jules Shear, is one such.


As I said, I have no intention of reviving the old-style Hearsay reviewing technique here and now. I’m well out of shape and it would take many weeks of limbering up before I was prepared to inflict anything like that back on the public. But I will say a few words here, if only to draw the album to your attention. Anyone who knows anything about Hearsay will be aware that Jules was a staple of the magazine – one of the only people to be interviewed twice and a singer-songwriter who collaborated at various times with many of the other people we interviewed. If you don’t know much about him, I refer you to the interview section on this site. However, I haven’t seen a single review of his newest album (or the last few either, come to that) anywhere in print.


What’s exciting about this album for me is that it’s a real return to form after a few interesting blind alleys and enjoyable but, perhaps, unessential releases. This is easily his strongest collection in over ten years. One of the things which led to the gradual demise of Hearsay was the feeling that many of our favourites had their best days behind them. It was often getting harder to feel passionate about new records from people we’d once loved to bits. Of course, the likes of Jules Shear have more than earned the right to explore a few blind alleys. Nevertheless, when I pause and think about it, of all the Hearsay cover stars only a couple are still producing work that is both consistent and vital (Jules is, in this respect, one of the most consistent of Hearsay favourites.) That’s a subject for another blog post, I think (‘what they’re all doing now… and why’) but the new Jules Shear album is, it must be said, a beautiful work.


It doesn’t necessarily feature his best songs of recent memory - certainly 2006’s sombre and challenging Dreams Don’t Count contains some wonderful numbers, including one called You Anymore which is among the saddest and most perfect songs ever written – but what makes it work so well is that it breathes confidence. It kicks off with a strident call to arms called I’m Coming Back and follows this up with a slew of catchy, brilliantly-produced, incisive songs that, once again, ably demonstrate how popular song can be turned into a vital and profound art form.


So, yes, this isn’t a Hearsay review. Although, come to think of it, I’ve passed as much critical comment on the album as a review in, say, Q Magazine would do. That shocking thought makes me think that maybe we should start reviewing albums again, if only as a public service. But for now you’ll have to take my word for it – if you ever enjoyed Jules Shear’s masterpiece The Great Puzzle but stopped paying attention sometime during the 1990s then now’s the time to part with some more cash and return to the fold.

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