Part One: Fractured
Released: October 6th, 2017
Mariusz Duda: bass and acoustic guitars, piccolo bass, keyboards, percussion, programming, vocals
Wawrzyniec Dramowicz: drums
Marcin Odyniec: saxophone
Sinfonietta Consonus Orchestra
- Blood on the Tightrope
- Crumbling Teeth and the Owl Eyes
- Red Light Escape
- A Thousand Shards of Heaven
- Moving On
It is no secret by now (to anyone) that Fractured, the fifth Lunatic Soul album, was not the album of 2017 for me. I stuck it in at Number 5 but that was probably higher than it should have been. To say that I was disappointed and baffled would be an understatement. No matter how hard I tried, it just wouldn’t take. Fractured is anomalous, an outlier, straddling the border between Lunatic Soul and Riverside, not really one or the other: but perhaps closer in spirit to the last half of Love, Fear and the Time Machine than to any Lunatic Soul album.
It is hard to pin down exactly where the problem lies. I know this might sound a bit…self-serving, but the warning bells rang when so many people, heretofore not particular LS fans, embraced the album with enthusiasm. Lunatic Soul is a project with a fundamentally different feel than Riverside, darker and more ambient, less hard (but not “soft” by any means) dense and percussive, more adventurous and syncretic, perhaps even more nuanced. It is a project that has a rather more specialized audience, and perhaps a more dedicated one; certainly a much smaller following than Riverside. So it seemed distinctly odd that suddenly so many Riverside fans should profess to love the new album so much.
It is indeed an album of high accomplishment, with the trademark beautiful melodic passages that are a Mariusz Duda forté, and with some very powerful moments. But somehow, it doesn’t add up. The whole is not more than the sum of its parts. It is an album of fragments, a couple of very good songs (“Blood on the Tightrope”, “Fractured”) and exceptional bits from other tracks (“A Thousand Shards of Heaven”, “Battlefield”). But it has few of the attributes of Lunatic Soul. Duda has been moving away from lush analogue sounds towards more electronically-driven music, so the sound is sparser, more open, cooler. The rich density of small percussion is largely absent, replaced by a lot of guitar and electronic effects. This trend began with Walking on a Flashlight Beam, but that album retains the Lunatic Soul gestalt. Fractured has moved in a different direction.
For me though, the biggest issue is that there is just too much singing. Yes, you read that right. And this has nothing to do with the fact that I happen to like instrumental music. Fractured is an extraordinarily vocal-dependent album, jam-packed with lyrics, overflowing with words. There are times when the verbiage overwhelms the songs, cascades over the edges and floods the place. One feels that Duda was driven to just say stuff, constraints of the song structure be damned. I find this more distracting than engaging.
Which leads to the other problem: the lyrics are so deeply personal that it is difficult to listen to them. Mariusz Duda has made no secret of the reason behind the album, the need to exorcise ghosts, to rid his soul of the demons and tragedies of the past several years; anyone who knows that history can hardly fault him for indulging in maybe the only kind of therapy that would work. However, while his lyrics have always had a suspiciously personal feel, on Fractured he has taken it to a whole other level. There is no doubt at all that he is not speaking in general terms. As such, this excruciatingly intimate baring of his soul leaves one feeling uncomfortably voyeuristic.
In the end, Fractured is an album that sounds nice when I play it, and I can get through it with no problem, except that, unlike all the other Lunatic Soul albums (and most of Riverside for that matter) I play it out of obligation, not desire. That actually makes me feel bad.