With the fan-funded debut, ‘Woodditton Wives Club’ under his belt, faced with LP no. 2, was Alex Highton to tear off wildly into the blue or carefully plan his next artistic step? Well, as the Liverpool-born balladeer clearly proved with his first release, he has a potent knack for crafting folk-pop gems and whipping up a memorable melody. As easy as it is to reference the Fab Four when musicians emerge from the Merseyside, any comparisons drawn in Highton’s case were for a fundamental reason. Therefore, factoring in the vast range of his genre-hopping influences, musically on ‘Nobody Knows Anything’ there were no boundaries for Highton.
Yet, despite having a quaint family life in Cambridgeshire there was still a lot playing on Highton’s mind. Troubled by past experience and exasperated by prevailing affairs, his searching led him to the big philosophical question:
“Trying to work out the point of it all really, to which the answer is I haven’t got a clue and nobody has. I get pissed off with the certainties presented to me by religions and politicians.”
Lyrically ‘Nobody Knows Anything’ is an emotionally charged record and Highton doesn’t just pick at Faith and Religion, he forces his fingers between the rifts and pulls it apart. Each composition brings to light another challenging observation, as Highton gives the impression of being both fearful and accepting, which was somewhat his intention:
“In fact I did record it with the loose idea that these songs were the thoughts running through someone’s head just before they die. It’s certainly structured in that way.”
The pensive piano piece ‘Somebody Must Know Something’, which shares a similar descending melody and forlorn fearlessness to my ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ presents Highton at his finest. Backed by sweeping, imposing strings he cynically sings, “God is dead or he’s left, that’s the only explanation to the pain and distress that he clearly loves to cause”.
As the song fades a response to Highton’s ruminations is caught, as ‘Nobody Knows Anything’ engulfs the listener. Drifting directionless through the cosmos the weaving interlocking melodies of the instrumental track reiterates Highton’s feelings once more, ‘we can speculate all we like but we won’t get an answer’.
Harking back to the contemporary folk roots of his debut, ‘She Had This Sister’, ‘Kills’ and ‘The Evil That Men Do’ prove mid album highlights, due to the jazzy undertones and the stunning, unusual display of harmonies – listen to the albums lush a cappella outro for a quick fix – and the creative contributors Highton has rallied together. On ‘She Had This Sister’ Laura J Martin performs a flute solo that could have easily found its place on either of Nick Drake’s first two records and Nancy Wallace (The Owl Service, The Memory Band) adds perfectly to the Robert Wyatt waywardness of ‘Kills’. Jonny Bridgwood’s (Morrissey, The Leisure Society) distinguished double-bass work is another leading example of how Highton’s handpicked musical partnerships breathe life into these well-crafted arrangements.
The artwork featuring Highton looking baffled around retro typewriters and dated computers could perhaps have stemmed from the music that falls at the other end of his symphonic spectrum. ‘Panic’ recalls the sounds of ‘80s electronic outfit Depeche Mode, with the pulsating drive of a drum machine and echoed guitar lines leading it towards a cybernated conclusion. Whereas the playful cantering, Wurlitzer synth and Saxophone blurts of Nick Williams on ‘Fear’, summon Talking Heads and Field Music comparisons.
With most songs falling within the three-minute mark, Alex Highton has successful honed his songwriting formula. Whilst also expanding upon his former recordings by confidently intermixing his eclectic range of influences with his already recognized lyrical depth.
Review by: David Weir