This Wild Willing
BOTTOM LINE Following his muse to find an adventurous new sound
At this point in his career, there is a Glen Hansard sound.
Whether it is with his rock band The Frames, his more acoustic duo The Swell Season or as a solo artist, a Hansard song is going to be well-crafted, likely emotional and usually closer to acoustic than not, much in the way his songs for “Once,” both the movie and the musical, became so memorable. But not on “This Wild Willing” (Anti-).
This time, Hansard allows his creativity to wander much more than it has in the past and he has assembled plenty of interesting traveling companions. In addition to longtime collaborators like bassist Joe Doyle and pianist Romy, the classically trained Iranian-born Khoshravesh brothers appear throughout the album, offering a Middle Eastern influence beneath Hansard’s Irish storytelling. Irish electronic artists Dunk Murphy and Deasy pop up occasionally to shake up a song’s foundation. And when they — along with a team of musicians playing everything from accordions and bouzoukis to the daf, a Middle Eastern frame drum — improvise some sort of magic, the results are as unshakable as Hansard screaming, “Say it to me now!”
The single “Fool’s Game” builds slowly, especially in the instrumental interludes, as Hansard sings a wary risk-reward analysis of falling in love. “It's a speeding train beating through the pouring rain,” he describes the relationship, before the six-minute epic combusts in an orchestral explosion of beauty, “with no way to slow or stop it, and the tracks are broken.”
The power of “Good Life of Song” is how Hansard’s vocals and delivery take the song in one, more expected, direction and the lovely, confounding orchestration goes in another, eventually winning out. Even in the more straightforward moments of “This Wild Willing,” like the melancholy, Eddie Vedder-esque “Who’s Gonna Be Your Baby Now,” Hansard offers little surprises that never fail to delight.