Review: Keaton Henson – Kindly Now

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Keaton Henson: Kindly Now

Henson’s first two albums Dear and Birthdays earned him regard as one of the U.K’s finest folk rock musicians. With Kindly Now Henson seems to have abandoned the latter part of that title, discarding for the most part his rock sensibilities in favour of the electronic and classical influences that came to the fore in his two previous albums; Behaving, and Romantic Works respectively.

This is overall, a gentler album which relies much more heavily on piano instrumentals, and synthesizers. Whilst we see flashes of the earlier Henson in songs such as The Pugilist (an interesting reflection on Henson’s relationship with his audience), and Comfortable Love the majority of the album seems to eschew the use of guitars almost entirely. From a musical perspective is this undoubtedly Henson’s most accomplished work, and certainly reflects his diverse musical talent. Kindly Now successfully fuses the three genres that have marked his career to date, whilst writing an album that feels like a complete piece of work as opposed to a collection of disparate parts as such albums can often sound.

Henson, as he always has, strikes a tragic figure throughout Kindly Now. The music is at times overwhelmingly, and gut wrenchingly sad, with the albums themes rarely departing from the issue of broken hearts, self loathing, and isolation. These are familiar themes within Henson’s work but with this album he appears to have taken a softer approach – perhaps reflecting the new found gentleness in his music. Gone is the anger and bitterness from Birthdays in which Henson threatened to tear out the eyes of an ex-lovers new partner. In its place the lyrics of Kindly Now become more mournful, and pleading as demonstrated in ‘Polyhmnia’ (“Poly won’t you put out my eyes/Tell me you’re sleeping with those other guys”), and ‘How Could I Have Known’ (“If only you’d come back now/I’d not let you down again”).

Part of what makes Henson such an engaging and emotive songwriter is his ability to blend blunt sincerity, with poetic brilliance. It’s an interesting contradiction: for an artist whose social anxiety has made it difficult for him to interact with his audience, as a lyricist Henson never attempts to shy away from vulnerability, clearly comfortable with bearing out his heart and soul to this same audience. The finest moments on the album, in the form of ‘Holy Lover’, ‘Old Lovers in Dressing Rooms’ and ‘The Pugilist’, in which Henson blends his sophisticated musicianship with his poetic lyrics, are undeniable reminders of his unique brilliance.

I thoroughly enjoyed Kindly Now, however despite its moments of brilliance it is an inconsistent piece of work. Unlike all of his previous works there are tracks, such as ‘No Witnesses’ and ‘Gabe’ which simply fail to resonate with the listener, and even more crucially, could have been found on any singer-songwriters album. Overall, however Henson’s 4th studio album is a beautiful, and sorrowful album which, while not quite surpassing the brilliance of Birthdays and Behaving, more than cements Heaton’s status as one of the finest folk musicians active in the world today.