King Krule – Man Alive! review

by Joey Cobb

It’s been an eventful few years for Archy Marshall since the release of sophomore album The Ooz in 2017. A year ago, he and his partner Charlotte Patmore announced the birth of their daughter, prompting a move away from South London to the relative calm of the North West. In a grainy short film released at the end of 2019 entitled Hey World!, fans were teased with a handful of rawly recorded new tunes. Directed by Patmore, the film follows Marshall and his guitar around rural northern landscapes bathed in the orange glow of dusk. Rows of icy fields are backed by bleak power stations, shots of soaring birds are cut sharply with towering pylons. This juxtaposition, fraught but beautiful, underlies Man Alive!.

In contrast to the dense sprawl of The Ooz, the 14 songs that make up the third album span just 42 minutes, with many of the songs no longer than three minutes. Man Alive! feels like a mood board: a series of vignettes that dip in and out of the King Krule psyche, not unlike the visual collages that have accompanied the release. First track, Cellular, sputters open with chirping samples and industrial drums, the canvas on which Marshall paints his affecting angst, caught up in the information overload and social pressure we are all subject to – ‘What am I good for? I’ve got no signal, abandoned to the voice in my head’. The search for connection in a world that’s never been more connected is a theme that crops up throughout the album. Sampled dial tones and voice mail messages rise up from under the music, giving a sense that something’s always just out of reach. 

Stoned Again and Comet Face hark back to the claustrophobic inner city punk that thrust King Krule into the limelight back in 2013; his gravelly yelp making hairs stand on end. Fourth track, The Dream starts with the beautiful naivety of a stream-of-consciousness recording before it suddenly descends into impressionistic textures and hazy loops, a gateway into the album’s second half. From here, song structures collapse, giving way to woozy drones and meandering melodies as Marshall sinks deeper into his subconscious. The familiar fever dream sonics of The Ooz reach a climax with the help of collaborator, Ignacio Salvadores, as his haunting saxophone drifts through album highlight, Theme for the Cross

While not as accomplished as its predecessor, Man Alive! still leaves you craving to immerse yourself in its depths again and again. Marshall seems to tease the listener with moments of greatness that suddenly evaporate without warning. This is a collection of snapshots into the work of one of the most genuinely exciting and talented artists in transition.

Secret Meeting score: 85


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