Even In Exile by James Dean Bradfield – Album Review
By Steve Crabtree / @stevecrab
He once described himself as “a little short Welsh Smurf onstage trying to play guitar.” But James Dean Bradfield is a little bit better than that. Fronting one of the most successful bands British band for over 30 years and showing no signs of fading away confirms that.
And, during a current band hiatus, he’s about to release his second solo album, Even In Exile, on 14th August. It’s a record that’s quite stark in contrast to his 2006 release The Great Western. Where that was a very personal reflection, Even In Exile is a dedication to the life of a singer who became a powerful symbol of the struggles in Chile.
“Eerie, yet shiny topside of guitar”
Víctor Lidio Jara Martínez was a Chilean singer-songwriter and a teacher. He was a theatre director, poet, and communist political activist, and was tortured and killed during the dictatorship of General Pinochet. Bradfield decided to create some music to go alongside a bunch of lyrics about Jara that were handed to him.
And the resulting record is a great piece of work. ‘The Boy From The Plantation’ was the first release from Even in Exile, and it’ll be the favourite track for many. It’s a strong tune that contains the line that gives the album its name and is purely an ode to Jara. A subtly eerie, yet shiny topside guitar sounds superb, along with loving and longing lyrics laid over the top.
There’s a cover of Jara’s soft instrumental track ‘La Patida’ which adds more to this musical story. And ‘Thirty Thousand Milk Bottles’ brings a piano march in to the fray.
‘Seeking The Room With The Three Windows’ hands your ears a bit of a prog-rock feel and ‘Without Knowing The End (Joan’s Song)’ is an energetic, upbeat dedication to Victor Jara’s widow. A woman who’s never stopped fighting for justice for her husband’s killing, despite silences, settlements and the sentencing of only a handful of people involved. It’s the track I mostly keep going back to.
“Packed with intelligence and intrigue”
The album came about by a bit of chance. Friend of Bradfield, poet Patrick Jones (also the brother of Manics’ bass player Nicky Wire) had written a bunch of poems about the Chilean icon. Bradfield took an interest in them and decided he wanted to do something with them. He took a wedge of these poems away, and used them as lyrics to Even In Exile.
And when you listen to the album for the first time, it comes packed with intelligence and intrigue. The feel of the album swings around, and there’s a polished energy to the music. And a sense of precise intricacy in the arrangements. Perhaps a purposeful echo of the profound story of Jara.
Another tune you find yourself listening to time and again is ‘The Last Song’. The moody but melodic tones of this one are bashed in by a fresh, fast-beat instrumental break that you just enjoy.
And as you absorb the record, you know this is Bradfield. It’s unmistakable. You get a musical range, from latin to soft-rock, but that distinctive guitar and vocal threads itself right the way through the fibre of the album. It was recorded at the Door To The River studios in Cardiff, and almost each sound you hear is played by James Dean Bradfield.
“A loving tribute to the life of Victor Jara”
Even In Exile is an album I really like. And that’s not just the Manics fan bias from deep inside me saying so. It’s the kind of substantial bit of music 2020 has been crying out for. And if you take the album for the music, it’s a brilliant listen. It makes you wonder why James Dean Bradfield has left it 14 years between this and his other solo record.
But it’s good to go deeper in to the context of the album too. It’s a loving tribute to the life of Victor Jara, and the continuation of his legacy after his death. It inspires; it makes you want to read about him. Watch a documentary or two about him, and listen to his music.