Artist: Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
Title: Ease Down The Road
Label: Palace Records
Catalogue Number: PR26
Year of Release: 2001
A1 May It Always Be (4:03)
A2 Careless Love (2:06)
A3 A King At Night (4:29)
A4 Just To See My Holly Home (3:40)
A5 At Break Of Day (4:16)
A6 After I Made Love To You (3:53)
B1 Ease Down The Road (3:06)
B2 The Lion Lair (6:01)
B3 Mrs. William (3:03)
B4 Sheep (2:54)
B5 Grand Dark Feeling Of Emptiness (3:23)
B6 Rich Wife Full Of Happiness (3:05)
When this album was released I remember sending a copy to my brother with a note proclaiming it to be 'more songs about sex and death from the man that brought you I See A Darkness...' and this rather flippant summation, whilst being technically accurate, misses the subtlety of song-craft on Ease Down the Road.
Its predecessor was more broad-brush in approach, whereas you could listen to this record and just think, "Oh, what a nice, country-tinged collection of songs", and you might not notice on first glance that it's packed to bursting with references to adultery, suicide, celebrations of imperialism, murder, and sticking your finger up somebody else's bottom.
There's also a tightrope walk performed in some lyrics between arrogance and neediness, for example in the opener:
Please don't leave my side
remember I love you [...]
If you love me and I'm weak
then weaker you must love me more
There's an almost boastful quality in the justification of his adultery here, coupled with a childish tenderness as they 'play bride and groom'.
The full band at play on the first track (spread over the whole abum there are violins, lap steel guitar, banjos, piano, synths and percussion on top of the expected guitar/bass/drums) is in marked contrast to track two. Careless Love, essentially a poem hinting at suicide after a love affair that one party took more seriously than the other, is recited over a sole, shifting, keyboard tone (lyricstime). It's the only track like it on the record, and a brave choice to put on second, inbetween two almost jaunty numbers.
A King At Night, with its opening melodic guitar riff (picked up later by the piano), sounds close to comedy in comparison. But this is one of the tracks on which the music is most beguiling, carrying you away from the subject matter, because:
There is hate in my heart
This is how my day starts
There is blood on my hands
From the murder of a man
This is how I start another day in my kingdom.
He misses oral sex with 'his queen', and refers somewhat controversially, to the Raj as the 'good times' period of India (this is perhaps a controversial interpretation of the lyrics, as in the sleevenotes the lyrics say (all sic:)"In Indya there's the taj, in good times there was rog", but Will quite clearly sings a word that rhymes with Taj, not an abbreviation of the name Roger).
Just To See My Holly Home, refers to a home made of holly, the plant, rather than walking a nice girl back to her place. And similarly to A King At Night, the singing-round-a-campfire feel masks a dark song about evil Jack, who "stinks something awful", Sara "very gorgeous anxious slut", eating "baby stew" (yes, a stew made of babies), and pretty much killing and burying in the reeds anyone who comes near. I think it's satire, because of the finale, "we will live just us alone, safely in our holly home".
After dipping our toes in the dark waters, both At Break Of Day and After I Made Love To You return us the safe shore of the first track - love songs, but not about exclusive love. They are both named after specific times. The lyrics feature some of the best descriptions of the physical act, skilfully avoiding sounding corny or cringe-worthy.
The second side opens with the title track Ease Down The Road, and with the prominent banjo sounds much like Sufjan Stevens, although pre-dating most of his output. Anyway, it's a straightforward tale of an opportunistic fuck with someone's wife on a car journey. It starts with simply laying his head in her lap to rest, and one thing leads to another:
Through the window I could see
The fields and clouds all passing
Whilst in the passenger position
Eleanor was thrashing.
Now I've thought a little about this, and it seems to imply that the car is still in motion whilst they are performing said act. I don't drive myself, but that strikes me as a little dangerous, perhaps even more dangerous than speaking on a mobile phone. I may, of course, be missing the point, which is probably that some urges are uncontrollable, especially by those who, "love their mates/and love themselves/and need the love of others". And then again some people have a wilful and selfish disregard for other people's (safety and/or) feelings, but as I said, I may be missing the point.
Mrs. William makes a similar point, but less subtly. "It isn't usually my thing, to do another's bride [but]/ I'll sell my heart/I'll sell my love/and all my fame/my mother maybe/my brother too/to raise the stake to pay for you". There's something about the sentiment that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
The Lion Lair perplexes me. It doesn't really fit the album thus far, although its closest partner is probably the later Sheep. There are fragments of stories being told in mythological imagery, sparse musical arrangements, although fuller on The Lion Lair, and with a sing-a-long chorus, but simpler and rushed out in a continuous stream of words in Sheep.
Grand Dark Feeling Of Emptiness is, perhaps not surprisingly, the most introspective and personal-sounding song on the album, about the trials over growing up, maturing into the world, and the strong desire to have children. So strong, he considers asexual reproduction, chopping himself in half to "be as a worm or virus". Although the songwriter see his songs as children - "upon folks ears my babes are hung" - and whilst his songs can grow, they won't age like he has. It's a great song and sentiment, but could have been made more of in this collection, being tucked away at the back as it is.
And then the final track brings us back up - no more death and misery, just love and messing around in bed - that's what's important.