Marcus Loren Matthews takes a chance with 'Requiem' — it should pay offALBUM REVIEW: "Requiem" is a hugely unique album for a local rocker to make, even if at times it seems like a fair amount of regular compositions were transposed to the fake-orchestra format for the sake of the concept.
By: Tony Bennett, for the News Tribune
Marcus Matthews is one of those people who shouldn’t have to work for a living.
There are a few of these kinds of musicians kicking around the Twin Ports — people who have been at it since they were young. You almost wish that they had chosen pottery or something as their passion, because, well, you can sell pottery. Music, for some reason — music isn’t valued as highly. Someone can hawk a bunch of mugs and make a killing, while a songwriter can write a hundred tunes and be left with nothing but an unpaid landlord.
This isn’t to assert that pottery is bad, or that Matthews is wanting for cash. But he’s a Duluth-Superior legend of sorts, a guy who has been making music with bands such as Puddle Wonderful, the Surfactants, the Virgin Marcus, and Wino, WI for two decades, and he has been putting out solo albums on Bandcamp like they’re going out of style.
This month brings us two of them. Let’s tackle “Requiem.”
Basically, “Requiem” is a sort of classical-music album with Matthews singing on it. Being that most people don’t have access to symphony orchestras, this one is done via synthesizers and computer programs.
“I should have died, but here I am,” Matthews sings in “Part 1: Definition,” which is, like the other two tracks on the release, made up of a handful of smaller compositions, or what might be referred to as “movements.” Each of these movements has its own title, and visitors to the album page can read all of the lyrics to each while they listen. This one, “Water,” is an emotional ballad that recalls not orchestral music so much, but a dark 1980s radio hit.
Mock-tympani and synth strings herald the arrival of the second movement, “Signatory,” which almost comes off like a “Yeezus” bed track before all the tweaking. “The fine print says ‘behave,’ and the bold print drives it home,” Matthews sings in a strangely Elvis Costello voice over crashing cymbals.
“Remains” is a piano ballad in which Matthews digs deep to sing notes that are as low as he can stretch, and “Black Fawn” finds him singing accusatorily about “deft evasions” and “quaint illusions” over pizzicato strings and martial snare drum.
“Suspicions” almost comes off like a slow-gallop heavy-metal riff played by bassoons and triangle. As it ramps up, it takes on a low-budget horror-movie soundtrack feel.
The 20-minute opening track comes to a close with “Ghosts,” a ballad about letting go of long-term damage from an abusive relationship. “And still you stand there on that hill / with ribbons and bows on the wind / and new victims still marching in,” Matthews sings, in perhaps his best vocal moment on the whole album. His voice in this section is imploring, bare and powerful.
And that’s just one of the three parts on “Requiem.” The other two are 18 and 26 minutes long, respectively, and they follow the same sort of template that the first track does, although the third part features a long, building intro, something that sounds like an Irish drinking song, and terrifying lyrics that read like a suicide note.
No bones about it: This is a hugely unique album for a local rocker to make, even if at times it seems like a fair amount of regular compositions were transposed to the fake-orchestra format for the sake of the concept. But who cares? This is an artist taking a huge chance, and it deserves to be listened to.
Aside from the music sounding a little fakey at times, one thing that could be critiqued about “Requiem” is that Matthews doesn’t take the opportunity to orchestrate his voice. There are sections that almost call out for choirs of overdubbed Marcuses, but he sticks to a single-vocal method throughout the hour-plus of the album’s running time. It’s a consistent approach, but the album might be more dynamic and operatic if there had been more variation in the singing.
But, folks, this is an utterly unique artistic statement from one of the area’s most notable songwriters. It’s the kind of work that automatically should mean that the car insurance and grocery bill are covered, that Matthews can just sit around creating. Alas, we don’t have court composers anymore.
Just underappreciated musicians.
And we don’t even have the space to cover the demented punk-metal scuzzpile companion album (“C**kFlags”) that Matthews released alongside “Requiem.” Go to bandcamp.com to listen to (and buy) both albums.
Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.