One could be forgiven for hearing the title of this album and thinking that it might be Sally Timms' foray into gospel music. The visual evidence provided by its cover, however, tells a whole different story, from the lower-case "him" to the cover photo of Timms, dolled up in high heels and a short, short dress, sitting on the edge of a hotel-room bed, silk sheets asunder and a shut suitcase visible in the back corner of the shot. This is an album by and about men, that 49 percent or so of the population that wrote all but one of these songs, with Timms giving voice to their thoughts and feelings.
And what a voice it is that Timms brings, able to switch from honey sweet to stiletto sharp on the drop of a dime. Would that the material she chose for In the World of Him were a match for it, but she relies too much on the fellows you might expect, from her fellow Mekon Jon Langford (who had a part in writing a full one-third of this too-brief album's nine tracks) to indie warhorses Ryan Adams and Mark Eitzel.
Langford's "Sentimental Marching Song" kicks the record off on a minimalist note, percussive laptop-generated sounds making for a surprisingly aggressive complement to Timms' soft, breathy tones, the singer underplaying things perfectly, especially on the very sad "he needs a little love at closing time" bit at the end. But the sense that Timms may be up to something new on this record is instantly waylaid with the next track, a solo version of a Mekons track she already sang lead on, the wartime tale "Corporal Chalkie," with bandmates Langford and Tom Greenhalgh making cameos to further increase the "why (is this song on this album)?" factor.
As for the other superstar composers helping out here, the Eitzel and Adams songs
Timms covers here are merely average. Eitzel's ironically titled "God's Eternal
Love" fares the better of the two, creepy bits like "Your death is only the key
to their future and your children are just pigs they will roast" reminding
us of the sacrifices being made in today's Holy Wars, Timms' sinister whisper
and the droning backing making for one terrifying track for believers and nonbelievers
alike. The more straightforward, Ryans-penned "Fools We Are As Men" is a rather
gender-neutral lament about love lost that, while serviceable enough, hardly
seems consistent with what Timms is trying to do here.
The one unqualified success to be found on In the World of Him is Kevin Coyne's "I'm Just a Man." Written back in the late 1970s, the song brilliantly portrays the confusion and craziness of love in a post-feminist world over Willie B's staggering beat and Johnny Dowd's slide guitar. Looking for a straightforward love song? This ain't it, what with rambling bits like "It's not that I even want to marry you/ Because marrying you would mean/ That I have to chain you not choose you/ Chain you not choose you" interrupting the more simple declarations of love that crop up throughout this little gem. Astounding!
But while a nine-track, 30-minute-long album rarely begs for editing, what Timms has assembled here might have made better sense as an EP, beginning with the elimination of the Mekons/Langford songs. Part of this is for purely consumerist reasons: we know how Sally sounds doing Mekons material (indeed, we can hear her doing two of these songs elsewhere), and want to hear more of her giving voice to others' tunes. But in terms of sonics, too, this would have removed the two glitchy, programming-heavy tracks while enhancing the magnificent rhythmic textures that are found throughout these other recordings.
To Sally Timms, the male mind and heart present a puzzle. But in trying to make sense of them through these interpretations, she herself becomes more, rather than less, enigmatic.