Marlon Williams: Make Way For Love
Dead Oceans – 16 February 2018
New Zealand’s Marlon Williams has been compared on more than one occasion to the great Roy Orbison, and from the opening soaring tenor notes of Come To Me, the lyrically tender first track on his second album Make Way for Love, it’s easy to see why. Especially given its vague resemblance to Blue Bayou.
Born of the end of his longtime relationship with fellow musician, Aldous Harding (who also puts in an appearance on the album), the album is drenched in melancholia that is both personal but also universal. It touches on such familiar feelings and experiences as the communication gulfs that signal eventual separation (What’s Chasing You), the pangs of loss and memories (the dreamy ballad Beautiful Dress) and the everyday jealousies (the echoey-sung, rainy-day moody Can I Call You with its lugubrious bassline) as you find yourself wondering what your ex is up to and with whom. Suspicion and insecurity rear their head too on the galloping rhythm of Party Boy as he sings about the “fukn wild one” you’re likely to find “sniffing around” your “pride and joy”.
There’s bitterness, of course (The Fire of Love, the slow, baritone-sung, piano-led cold and cruel I Didn’t Make A Plan), set alongside the post- break up ache of loss (Love Is A Terrible Thing, another sparse, sombre piano ballad, haunted by mournful horns) that’s not made any better when your mates keep telling you had a lucky escape and you’re better off without them. Interestingly, Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore, with its lines about the emotional pain of knowing your ex has been crying but they don’t want your help is actually a duet with Harding recorded after they’d split up, albeit with her singing long distance.
Musically, the country tones of his debut are still in evidence, notably so on the Orbison-esque moody desert twang of I Know A Jeweller with its clopping percussion, but the musical landscape has been expanded to take in both a cinematic sweep and, on Party Boy, guitars that sound like swarming hornets, although, ultimately, it’s the blue intimacy that dominates.
After such an emotionally downbeat journey, the album does finally end on a positive, uplifting note with the crooning title track, a slow waltz doo-wop swoon that, to dreamy 40s-like backing vocals and a melody that conjures ocean waters lapping on Hawaiian shores, finds him sing of how, when you’re on your knees and words of comfort are of no avail. That you need to trust that the heart will heal and “the wonder of the ages be revealed as love.” Give him some room.