25 May 2016

Gabriel Bruce / Come All Sufferers (album review)

To paraphrase Kanye, Come All Sufferers is not a pop album, or a rock album, or a singer-songwriter album; Come All Sufferers is a gospel album. After recovering from a pretty torrid few years, the second album by Gabriel Bruce is an masterclass of love, loss and redemption, and has reaffirmed what anyone that saw him a couple of years back when he was doing the rounds for his debut album - Gabriel Bruce is something special. Come All Sufferers showcases one of Britain's most charismatic songwriters and performers at his most extreme - there are loud, angry numbers, there are slow, caressing, serenely beautiful numbers, and there are flat out belters that make you wanna get up and dance, and as well as that, it ties together elements of so many different genres together so effortlessly that when you're listening to it it feels like all the music in the world should come from as wide a sonic palette as Bruce demonstrates here. He literally ties everything together, and the result is one of the most powerful, beautiful, and downright amazing albums of 2016.

Gabriel's voice is something that quite often attracts comparisons to the likes of Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and Iggy Pop, and well, the thing is: it is that good. He sounds dangerous, lethal, on the blood curdlingly menacing Jesus Drag Queen, where he barks "and I'm a messiah!" in a way that's so frantic, so depraved that it'll probably just leave you in awe. Even when he raps, he avoids sounding like a white boy Jamie T cliche, and instead sounds like an all powerful demon exerting sonic superiority to all that stand in the way of the Jesus Drag Queen. On Freedom, the glorious opener, the cacophonous mission statement, his gothic croon is absolutely transcendent atop the drama of the brass furore that surrounds Bruce in his conquesting opening track. And on Metal Soul, the Dracularian, beats-driven comeback song, Gabriel's voice sounds tortured, as if it's come from a dark place as he rumbles:  "'cause it ain't no fun at all, making love to your Metal Soul."

But away from the darkness and the inherent gothic feel that lines this album, there are moments of genuinely transcendent beauty that makes this a really divine comeback record, and well, on a personal level, almost moved me to tears on first (and second, third and fourth) listen. At around the halfway mark on Come All Sufferers, Gabriel Bruce (and his backing singer angels) pick up from this kinda downbeat pop lull, and pick it up with the enchanting, uplifting cry of "so come all sufferers now!" It's musically beautiful, if Ebenezer Scrooge heard this in the first chapter of A Christmas Carol, it would have caused such a stirring in his heart that we wouldn't have had to bother with any of those ghosts.

The sacred, religious feel of Hold Me Close, Holy Ghost has a similar, serene beauty to it, with a caressing hammond organ sound that cosies up to little string noodles that sound like heavenly harp strums. "I just wanna find peace," Bruce cries, in what is probably the most heart wrenching number of the whole album, before the song fades out to these impassioned, powerful sobs. It's pretty emotionally heavy, really, but it does just feel so beautiful to hear a record that someone's poured so much of themselves into.

There's religious imagery all over the record; "some gods get blown up, some gods get maimed" he raps off on Gates Of Babylon, and on anti-materialist ode he cries "we need a new Messiah". This takes me back to my earlier Kanye West paraphrase; Come All Sufferers is a gospel album, bringing in elements of religion and spirituality together in a package of an album that works as a gospel, a sermon on the mount, for the chastised, the downtrodden and for those that have been dealt a bad hand in life. "We need a new vocabulary, to describe a world so goddamn scary," Gabriel sings in Kurt and Kanye, and that's what this record does really, just helps rationalising how terrifying the world out there is.

But in the same way it mixes genres (the same way any other post-goth-disco, soul-hop punk-gospel album does), it mixes the serious, meaningful, uplifting side of things with a real sense of humour in the way that Leonard Cohen does, I guess. It's self aware, with a sense of humour that just makes the whole record not only beautiful, but enjoyable 24/7 too. "I'm still in Tesco, still stealing sandwiches", he spits out on Sacred Heart, which is pretty instantly disarming, and then lyrics like "hey! Remember when we unwrapped each other like gifts from god" showcase a pretty extraordinary wit.

The narrative of Gabriel Bruce's career is pretty dramatic, and I guess the context gives this album even more of a special feel; after a really successful debut in 2013, a humungous fossil of petrified wood fell on him, and crushed his hand in a tragedy that could have seen him lose the use of his hand, which obviously is quite a big thing for someone that writes music. Then, as he's mentioned in interviews, he went through a really bad breakup, so I guess you could say it wasn't all going so well for Bruce. But Gabriel Bruce, as with many great artists, has managed to turn this turmoil into a redemption of biblical proportions. All the pain, both mental and physical, has been channelled into one 53 minute long record of hymns and psalms for the world's sufferers, and the result is, quite frankly, the most moving, personal, and stirring album you'll hear for quite some time.


Words: Calum Cashin