Secret Meeting score: 85
by Phil Scarisbrick
When you’re an Oscar winner, it is hard not to have that success at the heart of any commentary that surrounds your future work. Of course, being able to prefix a star’s name with ‘Academy Award Winner’ when promoting a film is an age old technique to project legitimacy, and it ascertains certain standard to a project. When that Oscar winner is a musician though, the effect can be very different.
The low-budget Irish film, Once, was an unexpected success back in 2007, not least because of the music written by its stars – Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova – winning them the Academy Award for Best Original Song for their duet, Falling Slowly. Since then, neither artist has reached the same level of success with their respective solo careers, despite making some wonderful music. Now Hansard has returned with a new record, This Wild Willing, and it definitely breaks that cycle.
Recorded in Paris with usual collaborators Deasy and Dunk Murphy, Hansard also utilised the expertise of the Iranian Khoshravesh brothers. Focusing on improvisation and spontaneity, the new approach has worked an absolute treat. The album is endlessly interesting, with an abundance of instruments and electronics making each track sound fresh and vibrant. Hansard’s vocals are more restrained than usual, but this takes none of the character away. Album opener, I’ll Be You, Be Me, showcases this vocal approach on an ever-building rocky number that is endlessly exciting. You then get a complete left turn with second track, Don’t Settle, a melody-rich, piano-led number.
Undoubted album highlight is the six-minute behemoth, Fool’s Game. It builds on the best elements of the first two tracks. Hansard’s voice washes over the top of the slow-burning soundtrack, with Bon Iver-style vocal modulation adding a haunting quality. The song culminates in a Sigur Ros-evoking wall of sound before dropping down to the lone vocal of Aida Shahghasemi, who sings lines from a thirteenth century Persian poem. The Middle Eastern strains are also present on other tracks such as the hushed Race to the Bottom and sparse folk number, Treading Water. The worlds of Iranian and Irish folk crashing together to great effect.
This Wild Willing is Hansard’s best work since Once. This may well be because he found the right collaborators to help channel his undoubted talents. They have created a record that focuses on the intimacy one can have with other people, but makes the listener feel included in the story. The improvised nature of its composition and recording could have left it feeling under-cooked, but instead it has instilled a vibrancy that makes it utterly compelling. I suspect this record will be adorning my turntable for some time.