Cancel The Sun
The Rails are the folk-rock duo for our times. The songs are well crafted, the singing is superb, the instrumental breaks are stunning and it’s all for nothing. The album title, Cancel The Sun, telegraphs the despair that permeates the album. I suppose it’s in their DNA. Guitarist/vocalist James Walbourne has spent time in the Pretenders, the Pogues, Son Volt and many more as hired gun. Kami Thompson is the daughter of Richard and Linda Thompson. The Rails draws on this genealogy to craft some wonderfully crafted songs that are among the most nihilistic things I’ve heard in ages.
The very first lines of the very first song sets the tone. Kami Thompson sings, “Don’t give me that look again/I’m just your lover/I’m not your friend.” Ouch. And “Call Me When It All Goes Wrong” is a love song. James sings, “I’m in prison, bored and poisoned/Spend all my money on the ball and chain.” That’s James love song. If this is how the Rails write about love, it’s no surprise that “Dictator” and “Cancel the Sun” are astonishingly bleak. “Cancel the Sun, Hello Armageddon” is beautifully sung bleakness.
Once up on a time, say when I was a teenager, I would have seen this bleakness as gallows humor. Having been in this increasingly forlorn veil of sorrows for over five decades, I can’t whistle past the graveyard as easily. I’m troubled by the imagery in “Mossy Well.” James sings” So buy a round and wish me well/then drown me in the mossy well.” It’s a song about abandoning hope and flirting with suicide. Kami Thompson doesn’t flirt. She stands on the sidewalk yelling JUMP. On “Save the Planet” she sweetly sings “You’re all talk, your head’s in the sky/We’re all facing catastrophe/Load the chamber, get down on your knees.” Maybe that’s not clear enough. The chorus goes, “Save the planet, kill yourself/You know what you have to do.” When I was a teenager, I would have found this morbidly funny (I was highly amused by the theme from MASH, “Suicide is Painless”). Having battled depression for years and lost too many friends, I can’t laugh at these tunes. They are beautiful, finely crafted and horrifying.
Cancel the Sun is a perfect example of why I don’t mind reviewing albums sung in languages I don’t understand. If the Rails were singing in Welsh or Creole or Klingon, I’d be writing about the wonderful harmonies, the thrilling guitar solos and the how well the songs are put together. But the Rails sing in English and I can’t escape the pessimism they sing about. I don’t want to give up. I don’t want to jump into the mossy well. I can’t love this album.