In elementary school, I used to read Circus Magazine all the time, eager for gossipy tidbits about my favorite bands, grown men with teased hair and makeup. Later in high school, I wrote a poem with my friend called “Man Trapped in Closet” for a school publication. These events are related in so far that it wasn’t until years later I finally realized they both had severe homo-erotic undercurrents. I still write the occasional poem, although I make sure to title them things like “My Girlfriend Likes it Doggy” even if most of them are about the changing seasons of life. On the other hand, I never read Circus anymore. This is partly because I have no interest in hair-metal (although I still believe that Cinderella’s bluesy-cock-rock is ageless). The point is that I don’t read much rock journalism at all anymore, even though my interest in music has grown exponentially since I first picked up Motley Crue’s Theatre of Pain back in 4th grade (of course, seeing Tommy Lee’s huge penis on a VHS tape in college was probably when all the “things in my youth that could now be considered a little gay” dawned on me, but more on that in another record review).
So, I don’t much about M. Ward. Judging from his music, he’d be a fairly interesting person to talk to, but if he doesn’t sing about it include it in his liner notes, then I’ll wait until we actually speak to learn about him. Until then, he and anybody else on my CD shelf (and in “My Music” folder) can be pricks or humanitarians. As long as they produce albums as beautiful as Transfiguration of Vincent, then all is well. You probably don’t know if you can trust me after reading my first paragraph, but believe it- this record is better than Cinderella’s Night Songs, Long Cold Winter, and Heartbreak Station combined!
If Elliot Smith had gotten better instead of trifling when he awkwardly moved from his “acoustic” period to his “instrumentation” period, plus had a box full of mid-century American records to dwell on, then this is what it might have been. Matt Ward has a similar, soft voice that compliments the sparse affair in many of his songs. Yet, it also fits perfectly within layers of fluttering feedback, jazzy guitar licks, bubbling horns, and piano-twang.
He, also, will invariably be compared to “sad songwriters” like Nick Drake because of the lyrics and the finger-picking. He also mentions the word “sad” 16 times in his first two songs. But the sense of loss that has suffused his past two albums is complimented by a spry wink. It’s the same cold-beer in a desert-town contentment-vibe that Ward’s former label mate Howe Gelb makes his living on. This collection might just qualify as elusive sad-songs that make you want to dance. He knows it, too, ending things with an elegant cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance”.
Strangely familiar but utterly new, this loose brew of mood, experimentation, and harmony is a keeper. On a scale of 80’s glam-rock magazines, where Metal Edge is a 1 and Hit Parader is a 10, Transfiguration of Vincent is a Kerrang!, the numerical equivalent of a 9.1.