I don't know where we're going. What does our future hold? I worry about the world my daughter will inherit in the coming decades. During my journey to and from work, I observe my fellow commuters and feel alternately repulsed by them and deeply affectionate towards them. At our core we're all the same, and wherever we're going, we're going together – but our experience of that future will diverge wildly depending on where in society we find ourselves.
These divergent experiences are explored in vivid and moving detail on Richard Dawson's new album, Peasant. Individual tracks tell the story of different characters: 'Soldier', 'Weaver', 'Prostitute', 'Scientist', etc. However, no matter where in society these roles are played out, Dawson gives equal weight to their trials and tribulations. Everyone suffers. Everyone struggles. Everyone has their own cross to bear.
Dawson's wildly expressive voice and guitar playing have been a constant throughout his discography, but on Peasant we also find a massed choir of voices and strings, foot stomping and clapping, a herald of brass dissolving into tragi-comic parps. It's long, it's dark and dirty, and it's the most moving album I've heard in a fair while.
For such a harrowing journey, Dawson has wisely front-loaded the album with the more accessible songs: the rousing 'Ogre', the sweetly sad 'Soldier', the hurtling 'Weaver'. From then on, although things become more knotty and bleak – especially during the nightmarish 'Scientist' and the climax of finale 'Masseuse' – individual songs have plenty of light and shade, whether it's Dawson's voice reaching delicately into the higher registers, meandering passages of slack-tuned guitar, or thunderous riffing that has more in common with metal than folk. It's a deeply disorientating and immersive journey.
While Peasant depicts plenty of suffering, the overall tone is one of hope and deep empathy. Ultimately, I'm reminded of a line from W.H. Auden's poem 'September 1, 1939': "We must love one another or die." Thank you, Richard, for creating such a raw, evocative and poetic album. Whether it will help us as we cascade towards oblivion is another matter...