Sweet Blue Gene
By: Eric G.
Michael J. Sheehy sounds disturbingly like Matt Johnson of The The. This is not a bad thing as Johnson has a commanding baritone, and while Sheehy may lack Johnson’s histrionics he has plenty of his own panache. Sheehy’s music, however, sounds like what you’d expect a member of PJ Harvey’s backing band’s solo album to sound like: dark, bluesy rock with bits of electronics tastefully draped in the background. There’s much more to it than that, of course. Sheehy used to play in the Birthday Party-esque Dream City Film Club, but he tired of that band’s aggression and angst-ridden posturing in order to pursue his true love- “the song.” Disregarding the pretension inherent to such a statement, Sheehy’s “songs” are pretty damn good.
Sheehy looks like one of those bald freaks that typically accompanies David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, or the aforementioned PJ Harvey on stage. You know the bald guitar wizard that stands expressionless while the star flexes and recoils from the spotlight? Sheehy looks like one of them. Or Michael Stipe with prettier eyelashes. Nevertheless, Sheehy has a penchant for writing brooding ballads a la Nick Cave- except he doesn’t say “cunt” quite as much. He croons despairingly over stark guitar lines on “I Can’t Comfort You Anymore.” His lyrics are self-deprecating and almost grandiose in scope: “if I told you she’s in heaven/and the pain will cease tomorrow/she’ll watch over you/and the Lord will ease your sorrow.” He can get away with it, though, with a voice that cuts right through the instrumentation and resonates effortlessly.
“Daddy Is A Good Man” finds Sheehy kicking up the pitch of his voice to a tender strain. He sings beautifully over an unsettling piano line with an organ droning in the background: “Daddy get you anything/anything that money can buy/Daddy is a good man/don’t listen to mummie’s lies.” No song on this album shows any sign of light at the end of the tunnel. Instead we are forced to wallow in Sheehy’s gloomy world of betrayal and shame. Sheehy clearly comes from a traditional blues or gospel background with rock and roll bleeding into the mix. He writes achingly lovely songs that sound even more hopeless with his imposing inflection. Sweet Blue Gene is a stunning first album full of dark lullabies, delta blues crooning, and raw emotion, and Michael J. Sheehy sings it all like he means it.