Gangly frontman, multi-instrumentalist, classical composer, pop oddity and excellent panel show guest: Fyfe Dangerfield is all these things and most likely many more. Having broken into mainstream consciousness whilst leading loveable oddballs Guillemots into the hearts and ears of many, the Birmingham-born singer-songwrtier has now embarked on that ever-so-dangerous voyage, the solo side project.
So many careers have been sunk by an attempt to ‘go solo’. For every Dallas Green (Alexisonfire/City and Colour), Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie/The Postal Service) or Jack White (The White Stripes/The Dead Weather/The Raconteurs), there’s Lindsey Buckingham’s solo albums and Paul McCartney’s recording of ‘Mull of Kintyre’. It’s an inexact science at the best of times, so how does Dangerfield fare in the face of such varying success?
Fortunately, he won’t soon be compared to Andrew Ridgeley. After all, Fyfe comes from a background as a creative force, whether writing classical pieces or songs like ‘Trains to Brazil’ with Guillemots. So he knows how to structure a song, construct a hook and round out a sound. Unfortunately, on Fly Yellow Moon, he only does these things in fits and starts.
The song that everyone is talking about from this album is ‘She’s Always a Woman’, a brilliant cover of Billy Joel’s ’80s hit which featured on the John Lewis advert and subsequently became somewhat of a phenomenon. It is a cracking song and shows that Dangerfield knows his stuff: it’s a very simple sound, just vocals, guitar and piano, and they all gel wonderfully to create a smooth, tender song.
However, it would be terrible to only acknowledge a song Dangerfield didn’t actually write (and which is only a bonus track not included on the original mix), so we look elsewhere on the record to see whether he can match these heights with some self-written material. Luckily for us, he shows on Fly Yellow Moon that he can really write: lead single ‘She Needs Me’ is a pop pleasure to listen to, packed with punchy strings and a great chorus, and ‘Livewire’ is another simple delight, FD’s vocal chops again on display as he paints a lover’s picture: “Livewire, your life is in the fire/We’ve got everything to play for/one-one, half-time”.
And there are a fair few excellent tracks on this début – you can add upcoming single ‘Faster Than the Setting Sun’ and ‘High on the Tide’ to those already mentioned – which display not only Dangerfield’s terrific voice, but his skill at combining instruments and sounds to create a poppy but still unique whole. Echoes of Guillemots are clearly audible, largely in the sporadic use of strings, but this is no bad thing, since they’re one of very few bands to find success with a totally unorthodox sound.
However, ultimately the record proves a touch uneven. For every brilliant height, there is a lull in proceedings – ‘Firebird’ is initially interesting but fades into a subdued dirge, ‘Barricades’ feels like diet Dangerfield – and you can’t help but wish there was a little bit extra here. Credit to Fyfe, though, for producing an 8-track record as his first: in so doing he has clearly trimmed down his catalogue rather than recording everything he has written in the last year. All too often, first albums are so long that they either run out of steam or leave the artist scrabbling for new ideas, but here Dangerfield has made a tightly crafted record with some truly memorable tracks on it, something which most artists fail to do with any album, much less their first.
In sum, then, Fly Yellow Moon doesn’t quite live up to its own ability. It’s like a superstar footballer scoring a hat-trick but missing the crucial penalty: you enjoyed the performance, but just wished he’d given you a little bit more.
Best tracks: ‘Livewire’, ‘She Needs Me’, ‘Faster than the Setting Sun’, ‘She’s Always a Woman’ (bonus track).
If you like this, you’ll also like: Through the Windowpane – Guillemots, Falling Off the Lavender Bridge – Lightspeed Champion, Want Two – Rufus Wainwright.