Album review : BARRIE JAMES – Strange Desire

Vacancy Records [release date 12.11.21]

Strange Desire is the third solo album from Glasgow’s ex Kassidy frontman, Barrie James O’Neil (now minus the surname).

Barrie decamped to LA in 2016, motivated by the usual young-artist-seeks-wealth-and-fame ambition. A handful of years later he’s on his third solo album, having romanced Lana Del Rey for several solid years (now split) and written four songs on her new album. So, he’s doing okay.

En route, he’s kind of invented a new genre. ‘Strange Desire’ is the fulfilment of his ambitions, Melancholy Melodic Rock leavened here and there with Alternative Country. Ashley Campbell’s sweet harmonising, tuned to the rude strum of acoustic guitars and fiddles on ‘Country 33′, along with the head turning swingbeats of ‘Emerald Girl’ add a veneer of radio friendly listening to the mix.

For the most part though, the album is a meditative, brooding series of songs.
The first single and opening track, ‘An Angry Man’ and the title song ‘Strange Desire’ act as our guide as we make our way through the 13 tracks.
Both are emotionally resonant studies of lost love and the nature of attraction, hauntingly ethereal yet deeply melancholic, they become the album’s benchmarks.

He backs up this songwriting strength with the dark and dramatic ballad, ‘Bad Girl’, a song that seems to flit between romance and depression, and ‘Solid Rose’, a track that starts off unconventionally, then moves through several variations creating whatever mood suits the lyrical moment. It’s reminiscent of the mock operatic grandeur of a Jeff Buckley original.

James clearly knows that he delivers with a detached cool that will not meet with universal acclaim, but the guy’s songcraft is undeniable, and it is often as if he’s exploring the range of his ambition, within the limits of a commercially appealing production. Doesn’t always hit the target, but it’s never off by much.

At least he has the nous to tack on a duet with Lana Del Rey at the end of the album. It has the same downbeat musical architecture as Del Rey’s best stuff, and fits perfectly with James’ emotionally intimate solo material. ***1/2

Review by Brian McGowan

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