Too often, the album is a place where singles wait to be released and B-sides go to die. Very rarely does an album tell a story, or offer real insight into the artist’s world. Creating a narrative on an album is a lost art.
At the risk of sounding a little dismissive, when a musician doesn’t really have a story to tell (just a record to sell), the album stops being a work of art and just becomes a product.
But when a record actually tells a moving and coherent story, then it can become a piece of art far more powerful than simply notes and words on a page.
So it is with Andy Flannagan’s new album, Drowning in the Shallow.
Composed of songs written mostly over the past four years (‘Fragile’ was written in 2005 as a response to the South Asian tsunami), Drowning in the Shallow combines personal reflection with social commentary, creating an album that feels like it has been created from pages from Andy’s journal – with songs capturing moments in time, as well as bigger thoughts swirling around his mind.
The latest offering from Flannagan certainly reflects him as a person. A political activist, Christian leader and social justice advocate, Drowning in the Shallow draws on all of the different aspects of Andy’s life.
You will be left in no doubt about Andy’s views on the state of the world when you listen to this album. His critique is stinging; in “The Reason,” he rails against the injustices he sees as sings:
“While you’re waiting, the rich have been raping the poor … signing over your conscience to free market lies”.
But he does not limit his critique to what he sees around him. He is more than willing to challenge himself in his songs. Don’t be fooled by the lightness of tracks like “Ego” and “Addiction” – they are powerful personal reflections, insights into the struggles that he has found himself in, and encouragement to others in similar situations.
The flow between personal and social commentary is mirrored in the eclectic musicality of the album. Each song is slightly different, and the album moves easily and without dissonance from reflective ballads to rousing protests songs, hovering briefly over the haunting ‘Seven Stories’.
This is not an album that you can dip in and out of. While each song has its own story and charm, their truth is manifested most vividly and powerfully when they are listened to as a collection.
Take the time to listen to the album. Rest in it. Reflect on Andy’s journey and what his story stirs up in you.
Listen slowly and listen well. Don’t risk falling into the trap of ‘drowning in the shallows’.
You can purchase Drowning in the Shallows on iTunes later this month.
Jack Palmer is Communications Associate for Sojourners.