With the new album from Steven James Adams, there’s a thread of tone and topic firmly tied back to his 2002-2009 work with the Broken Family Band – a warm and easily likeable English Americana.
Adams’ voice has grown richer, smoother, yet still leans toward a note of fragility wherever his lyrics suggest pleading, nervousness or uncertainty – and, of course, these songs are full of such moments. ‘Modern Options’, for instance, rolls through a first verse of leaving advice to a friend (“You can walk away…You can change your mind”), but opens the second with the jibe “you sing your saddest song – and maybe this time you mean it,” as if the narrator has heard it all before. The track ends with the burbling of a child and it’s uncertain if this is what will be left behind or if it’s a commentary on the subject’s self-indulgence. Or perhaps it’s just domesticity jolting everyone out of maudlin dreams and back to reality.
His genius lies in penning these images of disconnection, whether the gaps in human understanding, or the space between how something looks and what it is – “absurdly there were things that she held against me, I held them all casually”. At his cheeriest – and Adams’ lyrics are always witty – there’s still something equivocal; one foot resting on the brink of imminent peril. Even on the warmly titled ‘Togetherness’ there’s a catch: “you’ll become us or we’ll become you…And we won’t be able to tell who’s who”.
These songs keep smiling through life’s bruises, recounting the inevitable end in pithy, quintessentially British lines; this is a life of Dunkirks, filled with heroic last stands, where bravery shines brightest in face of defeat.