Record Review: Donald Cumming – Out Calls Only – The London Economic

Record Review: Donald Cumming – Out Calls Only

By Will Bateman (@WillBateman6611)

Donald Cumming’s career began at the peak of the post-Strokes/Libertines/Killers indie-pandemic with New York hipsters The Virgins and their self-titled debut. They subsequently strayed into more 80’s-pop territory with their second outing Strike Gently, after unsurprisingly signing to indie king Julian Casablancas’ Cult Records and surprisingly splitting soon there-after.

Climbing clear of the wreckage two years later Cumming has re-emerged with Out Calls Only. Here, he takes the notably personal subject matter of the ending of his marriage and the feeling of none-the-less well-natured, heart-breaking post-relationship isolation.

Cumming keeps the subject in this vein throughout, diverting perspective, much like the fickle mindset you might expect in post-break up confusion, spanning reluctant understanding (“you only did what you meant to”), bitterness and frustration (“you may think I won’t forget you, but don’t be confused by what you see”), and optimism for an unbreakable bond (“we’ll always be the best of friends, you know it to be true”).

‘Game of the Heart’ is an up-tempo opener, following seamlessly through from The Virgins’ ‘Dire Straits-at-their-poppiest’ second album. It would be unfortunate for Cumming to needlessly leave his band behind without developing his creative output purely for solo-credit. Thankfully this doesn’t last, changing gear to a jaunty, almost Randy Newman-esque piano intro with ‘Sometimes Sweet Susan’, and taking a distinctly classic New York rock’n’roll tone. It is this understated, confessional style which is most prominent from here on, and where Cummings is at his best.

The 7-minute mid-point ‘Scarecrow’ is a misstep. While its addition is admirable, its meandering, over-long style doesn’t really compel enough to warrant the indulgence. At least not in the same way as the downbeat ambience of ‘Break the Seal’, of which further extension would be welcomed. Album highlights come from the fresh ground of ‘Total Darkness’ and ‘Spanish Horses’. Their simplistic, lyrical directness is very effective. The former is an acoustic-driven lament tackling the darker side of single life after the rug of marriage has been pulled out from under you. The latter is a direct address to his ex-wife closing the album on a semi-positive note.

Cummings takes to the piano in ‘Spanish Horses’ to declare that, after all is said and done “Anywhere you are tonight, under the moon so full/Remember when I loved you, and know that I always will”. It’s a moment of intimate emotional clarity to round off an album of defined by indecision.

If Cumming hasn’t surpassed The Virgins with his first solo effort he is comfortably on par, offering an understated collection of songs with a prevailing theme of genuine relatable emotion at its core. While similarities exist; the attractive pop-guitar-hooks, a similar shying away from contemporary genre, it’s Cumming’s heart-on-sleeve honestly and singer-songwriter restraint which gives his songs more substance. It’s unfortunate that it sometimes takes a bleak life event like the breakdown of a marriage to inspire creativity like this, but whatever the personal cost, Out Calls Only is a promising step forward for an artist deserving of the spotlight.

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