January 01, 1970



Matthew Edwards
used to lead the late, great Music Lovers, a band who could top lists of acts
who should’ve attracted far more success than they did. Edwards is a smart,
incisive songwriter, with a keen melodic sense, a careful attention to craft
without eschewing emotional impact, and a similar ability as Pete Townshend to
translate his personal joy and pain into universally empathic communication. How
he’s stayed off the radar of music nerds and cognoscenti of literary popsmiths
is a complete mystery.


The Fates is his first album with his new ensemble
the Unfortunates. Though he’s treading essentially the same boards as he did
with the Lovers – a lovingly crafted blend of guitar-based pop and timeless
balladry, like the Kinks collaborating with Scott Walker – working under his
own name gives him more freedom to add extra instrumentation, like the pedal
steel on “No More Songs,” and experiment with bandless arrangements, like the
string quartet-driven “Sandrine Bonnaire.” Edwards also brings in former Pere
Ubu keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman as producer and weaves in famed avant garde
guitarist Fred Frith, bending both to the will of his own artistic vision while
giving them the freedom to be themselves – check the jagged, circular coda from
Frith on “Way To the Stars.”


As impressive as
the presence of those notables is, though, it’s worth noting that every note
they play is in service to the songs. Edwards has never been at a loss for
appealing melodies and penetrating lyrics, but here he’s digging deep, not only
into his trick bag of tunes but also his personal lockbox of thoughts and
feelings. That’s not to say he’s being confessional here – Edwards has rarely
indulged in straightforward, solipsistic self-flagellation. Instead he uses the
emotions engendered by both his troubles and triumphs to create songs with
emotional resonance beyond himself. Thus the brooding “The Imposter,” which
points fingers at those who are never straight about anything, could just as
easily be aimed at a mirror as at an unfaithful lover or lying politician. “Way
To the Stars” may wrestle with self-doubt and confusion, but it hews so closely
to its rocking melody that it’s as uplifting as it is tentative – “The best I
can do,” he notes, “is follow the line.” The gently psychedelic “Ghost” weaves
its mournful cello lines around a universal theme of regret and longing. The
lilting “Sandrine Bonnaire” could be simply a meditation on romantic obsession
for the wrong lover as much as a tribute to the titular French actress.


Mind you,
Edwards isn’t a gloom monger. A dry, sardonic sense of humor manifests in “The
Liar,” “The English Blues” and “Dizzy” (“I’m dizzy from laughing/Not making
amends”), and his tunes pull the lyrics away from the heart of darkness without
artificially induced catharsis. The heart of the album beats strongest in “No
More Songs,” in which artistic renewal comes from surrender to one’s own
limitations, as in the face of a shattered life Edwards makes the claim in the
title. By setting these sentiments to the record’s most gorgeous melody,
however, he slyly subverts his own admission. It’s not only the record’s most
impressive moment, but the pinnacle of Edwards’ career thus far. 


To say The Fates is a fine record is almost
damning it with faint praise – fans of Edwards’ expert craftspersonship on his
Music Lovers work know that he’s incapable of making a bad LP. And the music
contained herein hardly wanders far afield from his usual path. But there’s a
new emotional urgency here, as if Edwards has rediscovered the reason he makes
music in the first place, and that gives The
a core that elevates it into the sphere of an artist’s greatest


DOWNLOAD: “No More Songs,” “Way To the Stars,” “Sandrine



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