BONNIE ‘PRINCE’ BILLY – “Rich Wife Full Of Happiness”

Don’t believe what you’ve heard: faithful’s not a bad word. No matter how much rock, with its wanderlusts and night fears and beautiful heartbreak, would tell you otherwise. Everybody wants to be happy, nobody wants to be comfortable – or if they do they won’t admit it. Last year Will Oldham was writing songs about darkness which were streaked with happiness – now he’s writing songs about comfort which are shot through with doubt. Or maybe he’s writing the same kind of songs he always did.

But I don’t think so – it’s a long way and five years from the skeleton horrors of Arise Therefore to “Rich Wife…” with its jolly blurts of synth and rollicking chorus. The music on Oldham’s new album – country-rock, full but somehow sketchy, sometimes coasting sometimes pausing to deliver a knockout hook – reminds me of Dylan circa New Morning. Photographs of Dylan from around that time show him with babies in hand, a full belly and a full beard. It’s a look I like. Will Oldham turns thirty this year.

New Morning was scattered with roaring, happy songs, songs like the title track or “The Man In Me”, songs which let you know that finding a direction home and gathering moss wasn’t so awful after all. Reception was mixed, and reception of Oldham’s new music might be, too – there is, perversely, something recognisable and comfortable about the Caveian hauntings of “I See A Darkness” which is absent from Ease Down The Road. Writing songs as offhandedly home-loving and horny as these isn’t something indie songwriters tackle too often.

“Rich Wife…” lands on the right side of cosy and it’s the finest, firmest love song I’ve heard for a while. It isn’t blissful: “I woke up fat and almost unhappy” he sings at the end. Even the best loves aren’t perfect, but Oldham is writing songs where the “almost” beats out the “unhappy”, and that’s important.

“I woke up fat and almost unhappy
But bigger the laugh the bigger the belly
And I bellow out and the whole bed it shakes
And you smile at my laugh as it rocks you awake.”