‘Afterglow’ arrives as the first post-Bellowhead release from Jon Boden. From that point of view, it’ll be likely to get more scrutiny than his earlier solo records – no pressure, then! Students of the solo Boden will know that his last release, ‘Songs From The Floodplain’, was themed around an apocalyptic landscape played out in a city reminiscent of his current home of Sheffield. ‘Afterglow’ continues that tale as it follows a young couple thrown together and apart by the fallout from this apocalyptic event.
From this dark perspective, the record takes on the feel of an operatic tale of love and is littered with an orchestration of strings and brass, often, around a rock beat. Opening with ‘Moths In The Gaslight’, Boden hits the target straight away with a memorable song. This highlights one of the key differences between his solo work and other recordings in that it’s his songwriting that takes centre stage and not the arrangement of traditional material. In doing so, as the arrangements here suggest, he escapes the stricter boundaries of the folk genre into a musical playground.
In terms of the quality of songwriting, there’s no arguing with that opening track along with ‘All The Stars Are Coming Out Tonight’, ‘Dancing In The Ruin’ and the title track. There are other tracks which are ‘growers’ and it helps if the listener takes on the whole tale of these apocalypse survivors. In an era where the downloading of single tracks and the making of playlists has become second nature, this might be a challenge to some listeners but it’s worth the effort.
Musically, ‘Afterglow’ escapes folk boundaries altogether into an area that owes much to rock and pop. The swooping strings are reminiscent of the synthesised sound of the ‘Lexicon of Love’ album from those other Sheffield residents, ABC. Some tracks offer a dense sound that reminds you of Kate Bush or David Bowie’s dystopian ‘Diamond Dogs’ album. The ’Burning Streets’ track even has an early Springsteen quality to it. So, we’re not short of iconic touchstones here.
There are moments where listeners used to Boden’s folkier output will potentially feel overwhelmed by the density of the sound with its brass, strings and rock style rhythm section. However, fear not, the deluxe version of ‘Afterglow’ comes with a second CD where the campfire setting of its recording turns each and every track into a stripped back, live and acoustic version.
So, all in all, longstanding fans of Jon Boden will find a fresh approach which will no doubt confuse some of that following. Though the record has already got some mixed reviews as a result, you’ve got to tip your hat to any artist who follows their muse. As someone who remembers how much The Who’s rock opera ‘Tommy’ got lambasted by critics, my vote says that there are sufficient good songs here to mean this record will stand the test of time.