At the age of 65, Tom Robinson has released his first album in 20 years – for many this may have come as highly anticipated, however Only The Now’s strikingly irksome mix of musical content comes as nothing but exhausting to listen to.
Only The Now sits in two halves – while many tracks sound like an ageing singer’s take on contemporary rock, the rest sounds better fitted in a musical. ‘Merciful God’ consists of scuzzy guitar feedback frequently found in a solid rock track, yet to be fused with strange orchestral arrangements makes for something else entirely. Contrastingly ‘Don’t Jump, Don’t Fall’ does pique interest – it’s orchestral strings married with the hushed vocals make for an atmospheric track but being something more at home in the West End. All such cloying components thus create something very discordant in what should’ve been a greatly enjoyable pop album.
However, the album’s key redemption lies in it’s themes. Robinson being greatly noted for his outspoken attitude as a spokesman for the gay community in the 1970’s, there are clearly no qualms about addressing somewhat taboo issues in Only The Now. ‘Don’t Jump, Don’t Fall’ alludes to suicide, while ‘The Mighty Sword of Justice’ acknowledges injustice in Britain with lines “There’s one law for the rich/And another one for the poor/Justice is a whore/Who puts out for the rich”. While track ‘Merciful God’ addresses religion in one manner, ‘Holy Smoke’ almost ridicules it, serving to only detract from Robinson’s sincere messages with lines like “I like to smoke the Bible/It makes a crazy toke”. Guest Swami Baracus’ small rap verse is a further mockery, while Ian McKellen acting the role of God transforms the song into something wildly theatrical.
Yet perhaps the album isn’t one to be taken too seriously. Featuring Ian McKellen, Billy Bragg, Martin Carthy and Lee Forsyth Griffiths, you get the sense that maybe this is just a friendly collaborative process and project, in which case kudos – when not taken seriously, Only The Now is a fun little piece. Just musically, Robinson doesn’t appear to be too sure whether this is a pop or rock record, an album brimming with hit musical numbers, or simply some form of protest album.
Ash Valentine @