This is why Hiraeth is the best album you have made so far. You wanted objective,* I know, but to paraphrase the great Gonzo, objective art criticism is a pompous contradiction in terms. That being said, I stick by this well-informed opinion, and here’s why.
This is a thoughtful and reflective album without any trace of navel-gazing or self-indulgence, and obviously the product of a very profound emotional journey. It is inward looking, but still engaged with the social. “These Streets Are Ours” is a defiant protest song, with a chorus designed for singing along with, and “The Likes of Me” uses the effective trick of displacement to remind us of some of the problems involved in acting in solidarity with the oppressed from a position of privilege. It’s a dilemma that any radical from an industrialised nation will recognise, if we’re honest.
Hiraeth is also unusually serious, for you. Absent is the manic Python-for-anarchists-esque humour scattered through your previous albums. There is humour, fortunately, or I would have to ask, “who are you and what have you done with Cosmo?” However, it’s more in the self-deprecating vein you engage when you tell stories, and so it invites us in without wielding a club.
You remarked that Hiraeth is “musically all over the place”. (I have no doubt this came from a place of perfectionism, a necessary but sometimes self-defeating characteristic for an artist). It is true that the styles deployed are from a wide range, but your enormous versatility is part of your appeal. (It sometimes upsets your fans, but that’s all to the good. We can do with the challenge). It can lead to some stylistic rambling around, true, but that is not the case with this album. This one works beautifully as an album, unified by your distinctive playing style. More importantly though, the lyrics make deft and empathy-inducing use of the first person perspective. Thematically and aesthetically, this album is the personal odyssey of a revolutionary, rendered poetically.
You are generally very good at first person narrative, and I have frequently enjoyed the way you make it serve as historical fiction, writing in the unwritten parts of our history. On Hiraeth though, despite it being obvious that you create and speak through “characters”, your artistic voice comes through very strongly. If we still used the word in its original sense, I would say this album is your “master piece”; it demonstrates your mastery of songwriting, of your own artistic voice.
This is the kind of album that requires listening carefully, several times, from beginning to end. You can tell your fans that from me, and I believe this album will net you new ones.