Australian singer/songwriter Darren Hanlon loves a pun to a
fault. On this, his debut full-length release as a sometimes witty
troubadour, always ready with an unexpected turn of phrase, he tosses
off couplets and single lines that are chuckleworthy, cringeworthy or
vomitworthy, depending on your view of one of the comedy world's
lowliest humor devices.
As he croons "A thousand ideas I try to tell crossword girl/ How do I
get one across when you're always too down" on opener "Hiccups," you
can almost see the smirk on his face. That clever-clever smirk
permeates one too many tracks here.
That said, he can be both amusing and sincere, as on "He Misses You
Too, You Know": "And I know it's hard to become whole/ When you're
usually referred to as his better half/ But you're still the girl who
chops onions wearing swimming goggles/ You're still the same girl you
were before." Or entertaining, with a novelist's eye for concise
character construction, on "Punk's Not Dead": "I couldn't give a damn
about the friends of mine she'll scare/ Some people just can't see
past studs and bleached-blonde spiky hair/ I say 'A' for Abba she
says 'A' for anarchy/ In the morning she says 'Never mind the
bollocks here's your cup of tea.'"
Musically Hanlon has moved away from his Simpletons punk roots to a
mostly light-and-breezy indie-pop sound: acoustic guitar rhythms,
electric guitar lead lines, 4/4 drums and straightforward bass lines.
Proceedings are broken up by tracks on which banjo ("Cheat the
Future") and piano ("The Last Night of Not Knowing You") take over
from acoustic guitar as the primary instrument.
However, Hanlon's lyrics and voice, as with most eponymous
singer-songwriter outfits, are the focus here. Hanlon sings in a
unique Australian drawl which, like his punning, is either endearing
and honest or grating and affected, depending on your views about
suitable singing accents. Even if you enjoy the accent, it's almost a
relief when Frida Eklund from Swedish pop duo Alma takes lead vocals
on the bittersweet "A Cast of Thousands."
Hanlon can be a fine songsmith, a skill unfortunately displayed in
too few tracks here. He needs to be less cloying and play it a little
straighter with his lyrics if he wants to incite more emotions than
first-listen giggles and 10th-listen annoyance.