State: Honey Moon

Thursday, 7th May 2009

StateFor love songs, Rennie Sparks has said, "Triteness is really a problem." Sparks is half of the Handsome Family, with her husband Brett. Their songs have in the past tended to be more about aeroplane disasters and bloody killings – they’ve been called "the Gomez and Morticia Adams of country music" – than the transcendent joys of long-term relationships. But they’ve just released an album of love ballads to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary. It even has a silly pun in the title.So what gives? Well, perhaps due to lyricist Rennie’s mortal fear of getting too sugary, the romantic themes on Honey Moon are on the whole pretty oblique. The album might be an ode to marriage, but it’s not exactly ‘I Got You Babe’. One of the love songs, innocuously entitled ‘Darling, My Darling’, is about a female insect eating her mate "with snapping fangs".Musically, it’s business as usual. Brett’s deep, rich voice – descriptions of which tend to make it sound like some kind of gourmet dessert – is the centrepiece, with a generous dollop of steel guitar and other country stylings. It’s lovely. The only real problem is that the Family’s tempo switch seems to be permanently stuck on ‘stately’. The tracks swing along at an unvarying lope – not by any means unpleasant, but after a while you stop noticing when one finishes and the next begins. Triteness is successfully evaded, but I’d take a little if it meant they could switch things up from time to time.- Michael Freeman