For those of you who know Dave and his music, you’ll have certain expectations for this album: high quality guitar playing and honest, resonant lyrics delivered in McPherson’s trademark vibrato style. Well you’re in luck; Living A Life Without The F has bucket-loads of both. That being said, good as the album is, it lacks some of the elements that made previous offerings (Hardship Diaries, Dreamoirs) so enjoyable, and makes use of others which add less to the album’s aesthetic than might be desired.
The first track on Living A Life…, ‘Something Bad’ is a towering colossus of heartbreak even by McPherson’s standards. Posted to YouTube back in February as an album teaser, the video featured Dave playing an early version of the song live, just man and guitar. I dare you to watch that video (embedded below) and not be moved. Unfortunately, the album version seems to have lost something of that. Added instrumentation – presumably intended to give the song depth – actually detracts from what was originally a very rich, emotive experience.
Live version of ‘Something Bad’
On first listen, extraneous instrumentation is a source of disappointment for the first half of the album. Dave is arguably at his best when his vocal and guitar playing talents are allowed to shine through unadulterated. The man has written some damn good songs and fleshing them out with a full band has, in places, diluted their immediacy. That said, the more listens given to this album, the better it gets and it must be conceded that the main gripe with the full-band sound is probably feeling mislead and cheated out of a stripped down ‘Something Bad’. Further listening, as well as perusal of McPherson’s third album Dreamoirs with its orchestral programming, prove the choice to include the band to be, ultimately, a good one.
Track seven, ‘Dream World’, is the song we spent this album waiting to hear and marks a significant turning point: a return to a classic Dave delicacy that has defined the finest moments of McPherson’s back catalogue, from ‘Spring: Hearts need blood’ to Journal of a Journey Buoy’s ‘If Only You Knew’. It’s sad and heartfelt and if we’re being honest, isn’t that what we’re after here?
The rest of the album is constituted by ‘Slowicyde’, which says a final farewell to the rockier sound that has characterised so much of Living A Life… and rounded off with ‘The Pictures Lie’ and ‘Our Final Song’. ‘Pictures’ bears a striking resemblance to Frank Turner’s ‘Broken Piano’ – a sparse lament with a watery backdrop, deeply sad with an upturn of positivity and redemption in the finish. The closing refrain, “Fuck you, drunk me, it’s my turn for winning” is a sentiment we’ve heard from Dave previously on more than one occasion (at least thrice on this album alone in fact). Here though, the nature of the song lends Dave’s voice a cracked sincerity and one can’t help but wish him well.
Final song ‘Our Final Song’ is arguably the highlight of the album. It was co-written with Alex Davies of York rock band Elliot Minor and veteran songsmith Benjamin Francis Leftwich, and from the opening chords already feels unusually polished. Whilst the record’s midsection might feel a bit too much like a conscious effort, these last four songs provide the level of honesty we’ve come to expect from Mr. McPherson and along with ‘Something Bad’ (which, despite earlier complaints, remains a great song), they frame the album beautifully. Overall then, Living A Life… is a great album; it just might take a little while to realise it.
Living A Life Without The F is available to stream and buy now on Bandcamp. Dave will be touring the album throughout September; dates can be found at below.