Sadness Sets Me Free By Gruff Rhys album review by Greg Walker for Northern Transmissions. The artist's LP is now out via Rough Trade


Sadness Sets Me Free

Gruff Rhys

“Love as the final destiny / Chasing it like a park ranger,” Gruff Rhys sings on the lead single from his latest album. “Shoot for the celestial candy floss / Licking it like there’s no danger.”

On an album called Sadness Sets Me Free, (his 25th solo album, in a career loaded with accomplishments, including being a founding member of 90’s famed Super Furry Animals), you can only expect that he’s gonna hit on some heavy stuff. What you may not be prepared for, however, is the clever humor, the bruised beauty, the weight and frequent levity of a songwriter who has learned how to survive a broken heart and navigate a broken world with grace and intelligence.

He reminds me on this album, which has 70’s sounding pop hits like “Celestial Candy Floss,” complex country ballads like the title opening track, and disco-infused numbers like “Silver Lining Lead Balloon,” of his compatriots, Belle and Sebastian, who like Gruff, seem always to know the golden ingredients to mix up the perfect song. “There’s no use lining your dreams with silver / For silver lined clouds look much like lead balloons.” It’s refreshing, like a good slap in the face; but as Bob Marley famously said, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”

These are above all beautiful composed and performed songs, with 70s-worthy string arrangements on most of the tracks. Whether it’s the Bossa Nova lightness of “They Sold My Home To Build a Skyscraper,” or the staccato piano goodness of “Peace Signs,” he covers a lot of ground, genre-wise on this album. But gluing it all together is a time-tested, world-worn wisdom, that even if we’re a “Bad Friend” we can still be a friend nonetheless, and though “I Tendered My Resignation,” opportunity knocks yet again.

It is at once a heavy and a light album, a tender and piercing work of art and song craft. The final song repeats the titular phrase and finds Rhys howling at the moon. His humor and genius wordplay make the harder realities of life palatable, and his brilliant song construction invite you into a world where you can be sad and still be hopeful at the same time. If you’re new to this seasoned songwriter, this is a good entry point, with a hefty back catalog to look back upon and discover. This year in music is starting off well.

Order Sadness Sets Me Free by Gruff Rhys HERE


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