Album: William Doyle – Great Spans of Muddy Time review

by Philip Moss

The curious case of William Doyle – aged 30 years and two months

William Doyle has always had a vision. From early shows at garden centres, to his Neil Hannon-alike posturing with his first band, The Fourfathers, there’s always been a skittishness. He’s hop scotched labels, and released under then discarded monikers. A man, until now, who was seemingly seeking rather than honing ideas.

But Great Spans of Muddy Time is different. The back to back openers of I Need To Keep You In My Life and And Everything Changed (But I Feel Alright) are pop magnifique. No longer looking like a chap whose snuck out of the house in his dad’s charity shop suit, he’s grown into the coiffured hair, turtle neck jumpers and Oliver Peoples’ frames. And Everything Changed’s melody is the best in his canon, yet, and while maintaining the eccentricity he’s always reached for, and at times touched upon, here he moves from cult writer to Penguin Classic.

The decision to follow the opening pair with a trio of (near) instrumentals could look from the outside like a potential artistic backfiring. But the two overt sides of his personality – and a summation of his career to date – sit in harmony, as parks and rivers meet urban sprawl; designed to be consumed whole, as a journey wandering between the two, Doyle tests our attention span. He is well aware of contemporary ‘everything now’ culture. It’s not an easy listen. What we’re presented with are soundscapes that could score scenes on Twin Peaks: The Return, or hover around the softer edges of Trent Reznor’s film works, but instead are just as important to the narrative foregrounding of Great Spans of Muddy Time.

We’re only three months into 2021, but along with his production of Anna B. Savage’s A Common Turn, Doyle has arguably now played large parts in the year’s best two records to date. And there are connections between the two: not so much in sound, per se, but in Doyle knowing how and when and where to increase the drama (Nothing At All), to throw light at moments of shade (Semi-bionic), but most of all in helping the London songwriter to articulate herself – perhaps using his left, right, left, right turns to show her the way forward.

The eccentricities are still here (crikey! the album’s title is coined from gardening king, Monty Don). But whereas past reviewers have noted how Doyle’s doing a Bowie or a Jarvis, on Great Spans of Muddy Time, William Doyle is, quite simply, doing a Doyle.

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