By Andrew Vincent
I'm no expert on Canadian rock, (Neil Young, Bryan Adams and Arcade Fire are perhaps the furthest my knowledge stretches on the matter) but for some reason Andrew Vincent still somehow comes across as unashamedly Canadian to me. 'Rotten Pear,' mostly recorded in the quiet solitude of his Toronto home, is suffused with some indescribable, naive, polite charm that can only be Canadian; a charm that proliferates through his previous four albums too. But he is no longer hidden amongst a dense backing band; in fact, this, his first solo attempt, completes a full circle in his career: no more is he 'Andrew Vincent and the Pirates,' but Andrew Vincent, the solo multi-instrumentalist, singer songwriter, narrator and social poet he was before. And this, 'Rotten Pear,' a deeply personal, warts and all portrait of Vincent, is without doubt the most revealing, moving and poignant album of his to date.
It's no surprise that without the luminous aid of The Pirates, the music of 'Rotten Pear' is sparse, stripped down, minimalist of backing and even basic of production. Yet, whereas for some this would highlight their weaknesses as an artist, for Vincent it does quite the opposite: his delicate, unobtrusive vocals and simple musicianship sit neatly with the honest and raw themes explored. It's not arrogant, it's not in the least technical and it's not trying to make itself out as an overwhelming, beautifully-crafted epic. The entire record is all very genuine; it could be very easy for the audience to form quite an intense connection with it all.
For much of the record; plaintive, soft acoustic confections support the fragile, gentle vocals of Vincent to create some simple, wistful, pensive pop songs. Nevertheless, although the approach is largely the same throughout, each track has its own distinct focus. Hence, whereas the stunning layered piano, acoustic and swooning accordion harmonies characterise 'Hi Lo,' the gorgeous backdrop of synths create an equally melancholic and confounding atmosphere on 'Going Out Tonight.' Similarly, the tired vocals and acoustic guitar strum of 'Diane' offer a sharp contrast to the straggling Neil Young-esque electric guitars over 'Ruffian' and the razor sharp, yet tender, accordion melody that drives title track 'Rotten Pear.' In the end though, the result is all the same: a potent, mellow and sincere track of despair.
Amongst all of this, 'Hounds of Love,' a bold, sedate cover, does stand out. The original melody has all but been torn away; the focus is no longer on powerful, tempestuous drums, a driving bass line and instrumentation; now it relies on Vincent's delicate vocals and pastoral synths. It hasn't got the attack of Bush or even of The Futureheads' attempt, but it's still just as raw and honest as the original.
Alongside the soft folk-pop that characterises much of the record are heavier melodies and hooks, faster tempos, quick ringing chords and steady, solid drums, which come to the fore on 'Nobody Else' and 'Fooled Again,' whilst the twee, animated acoustic nature and cheerless vocals of The Shins wrap themselves in a blanket of synths and heady organs on 'Canadian Dream.'
The tone of the tracks stays the same, however. Consistently throughout the record, we encounter painfully honest tales of loss, love, life, death, friendship and dreams, all accentuated by Vincent's tired and cynical vocals. With minimalist production and instrumentation, these bleak stories find themselves at the forefront of the album. From his sober request to his addict partner "can I see you later tonight?" in 'Hi Lo,' to the agonising plea "I don't want anyone else / no, I want you" of 'Nobody Else,' it soon seems that Vincent is at his best with his eye to the keyhole; an empathetic chronicler of lives turning sour. Later, he even dwells on the wreckage of a past relationship, intoning "[I] spend my days trying to remember all the things I could've done different" in 'Going Out Tonight,' whilst remonstrating "when will it end, when will it end?" during the dark depiction of growing up in 'Fooled Again.'
In the end, despite all the melancholy and despondency that surrounds it, 'Rotten Pear' is an "optimistic record;" it chronicles the heartache and painful obstacles an individual must overcome growing up, but which they overcome nonetheless. It is this journey, coupled with Vincent's sensitive, simple but potent musicality that makes it such a poignant and emotive record.
Ultimately, a charming record from an extremely fascinating and understated songwriter.