Elliott Murphy: Ricochet

The decluttering maniacs who insist we should be chucking away the equivalent of our own body weight in material every day to avoid drowning in our own squalor do so at risk of throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater; there can be great value in undiscovered treasure hidden at the back of a cupboard. Elliott Murphy’s Ricochet is an album of outtakes “and orphans” (live versions and previously unreleased tracks) from 1998-2013, and volume 11 in Murphy’s “Vintage Series”.

Compilation albums like this risk being patchy (R.E.M’s Dead Letter Office veers from brilliance to the dreadful) or at the very least confusing (Bruce Springsteen’s Tracks received some criticism for adding to the originals many years later). Murphy’s Ricochet consists mostly of studio material, and blends well to make a consistent album.

Opener “Someday All This Will Be Yours”, from the sessions of the 2012 album It Takes a Worried Man, is a dramatic, apocalyptical statement to the next generation. With its burning castles, “boots of laughter” which leave no footprints and a dark, swirling energy, it suggests that what is being passed down by a possibly over-optimistic Don Quixote type character is possibly not such a great deal. Whether the narrator is Murphy himself remains to be seen, but as the album is produced and mixed by Murphy’s son, Gaspard, the track finds extra resonance with this possibility.

There are two tracks “recorded in Elliott’s office”, “Jesus” in 2009 and “Trapped In a Corner” in 2013. Both of these are impressive, especially considering that they are home recordings. “Jesus” successfully puts a poetic, echo-laden Murphy monologue against guitar. In a similar spoken word narrative style to Murphy’s popular track “On Elvis Presley’s Birthday”, Murphy contends that Jesus could have been “as scared as hell/ because he didn’t know/that the biggest miracle/ was yet to come”. The song concedes that he “lost his faith/ like all of us”, with the sound of closing footsteps indicating that he is walking away from it all. “Trapped In a Corner” has a jaunty humour, despite the desperation and defeat; its’ pre-Viagra hero, a “James Dean loner”, wakes up with a boner but is “so grateful there’s life down there”.

In 1998 Murphy recorded a session with Matt Noble which produced a memorable song “Hardcore” (on Murphy’s album Beauregard), catchy and full of clever word play and imagery. Noble has an impressive pedigree, having worked and written for Rod Stewart, Rihanna, Southside Johnny and others. Until Ricochet no other material had surfaced from this session, but here we have “Forgiveness”, a co-write with Noble. It has a glorious ‘80s feel and a loose connection back to “Hardcore”, with a similar concern for treachery and original sin. Perhaps the duo were thinking of Kipling (Rudyard as opposed to the pre-packaged cakes) with their first lines that “If you can keep your head when everyone else is losing theirs”, but this grand statement descends quickly into confusion: “there’s a pretty good chance you don’t understand/what’s going on here”.

Another notable co-write, this time with American singer songwriter and author Sid Griffin, is “Whirlwind”. Recorded “somewhere in Paris”, this track powerfully evokes the immediate aftermath of a relationship by being “lost in the past year/in another life”. With its’ empty Sunday streets and an insistent metronomic rhythm, this track easily sticks in the listener’s head.

Long-time fans will recognise many of Murphy’s familiar hallmarks; guitarist and long-term collaborator Olivier Durant adds a distinctive and dramatic electric guitar solo to love story “Dharma”, from sessions for Murphy’s 2010 self-titled album. Murphy’s literary hero F. Scott Fitzgerald is clearly signposted in literary singalong “Far Side of Paradise. With his feet “moving to the future” but his ass “sitting in the past”, Murphy adroitly addresses the modern world of 5 star hotels and thousand dollar shoes. Obscure allusion to Ozymandias crumbling into sand and Pollyanna with the prophets of doom suggest the world is going to hell in an epic style.

The rare but previously released material is a successful addition. “American Stories Part 2”, originally released in 2005 on 7” vinyl only (Ruta 66), is a full-on drama with some frenzied guitar work by Gaspard Murphy. As the cinematographic title suggests, the song could be directions to film actors. The re-recorded version of “Summer House” (originally released on 1977’s Just a Story from America) also shares a connection to cinema as the version is from the 2013 film Otta Verano. The new version, dark and brooding, benefits from Murphy’s more mature voice as an older man.

There are three distinctive covers on Ricochet: a 2005 version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Better Days” which is dramatically driven forward by the addition of Christophe Leroux’s cello, a shuffling version of Tom Petty’s “Angel Dream #2”, and a confident 2002 interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Dignity” (2002). If that’s not enough, there are two live tracks to close: “Navy Blue” (from 2001’s album with Iain Matthews La Terre Commune) recorded in Norway in 2007, and the protest stomper “What the F**k is Going On” (from Sweden in 2009). Introduced as a song about the economy, Murphy hits out at Ponzi schemes, politicians and reality shows; even the poor Easter Bunny gets a thrashing (but maybe he or she has always had it coming).

Gaspard Murphy has done a great job on production and mixing; the album is seamless despite being compiled from so many different sources. As such, with such a wealth of great material this album is suitable for entry level candidates as well as more advanced connoisseurs of Murphy’s work.



Label: Murphyland
Release Date: 04 OCT 2019