Album review by Glitterbitch

I’ve spent the last two weeks sat at my desk, headphones blocking out the dull reality of the office life surrounding me, listening to Scars by Paul Goodwin and desperately trying to find time to write this review. Set against the backdrop of cold January rain and snow, it has acted as my soundtrack and, comparatively, become almost as much a labour of love as the eight years it took Paul to mould these fourteen songs together.

Like a photograph album, Scars shows snapshots of the life of a very talented songwriter full of nostalgia, thoughtfulness and romance. Having taken care of every aspect of the album himself, Paul has very carefully designed a sleeve which feels like a diary as you turn the pages. Pictures of streets, houses, churches and slovenly evenings give us glimpses of his world whilst the beautiful lyrics give us a very clear window to his soul yet, despite such stark honesty, at no point do you feel voyeuristic or awkward. The only picture that appears of Paul himself is hazy and blurred making it very clear that it is the music on this album that defines him. Friends and musicians flit in and out but ultimately it is Paul, alone with his guitar, who is left to suffer the scars of his life and, like the title of the opening track suggests, Take It All.

Scars begins with Goodwin openly baring his soul to the listener and preparing us for the emotional onslaught which is to follow in the next hour; ‘Tonight I surrender everything I have.’ The sorrow and lamentations of broken hearts are nothing new with this style of sparse and evocative acoustic folk song-writing but there is no doubt, at any point, that it is anything but genuine. Whilst a cello adds to the melody late on it only goes to emphasise the loneliness and sparseness of the guitarist who concedes defeat with the line ‘because you’ve won’ as the song slows to a resigned end.

Borderline begins in the same gentle fashion with the delicate and haunting sound of an acoustic guitar before it ruptures into the bursting fuzz of a full band. Watertight has an instantly infectious melody which, whilst slightly sombre, has been playing in my head non stop. The song itself represents much of what the album is about, the balancing act that is life and the struggle to stay just above the water long enough to survive whilst accepting that ‘the scars had just become part of my skin.’ Like almost every song on the album there is a pervading sense of melancholy but also a realisation and pragmatism to deal with it and ‘wade in anyway’.

There is a sense of irony in the title of So Finally A Love Song considering that all proceeding moments are tinged with romantic words and loves lost. The beauty of the album culminates on tracks such as the male/female vocal led A Folly Or A Fortress and the true longing of Edinburgh. The more typical downbeat melodies are countered on occasion by songs such as Losing Out To Bullethead, a sea shanty led by accordion and mandolin full of ‘la da da das’ which allow us a brief moment of respite from the scarred lyrics which pervade everything else. 60 Miles With A Slow Puncture too, despite what the title may suggest, is frantic and full bodied.

It is In Sure and Certain Hope that, for me however, provides the true moment of epiphany on the album. The chorus lifts you up like you are running through a fresh spring morning leaving the cold winter behind; you pick yourself up, dust yourself down and carry on despite everything. The song reaches its climax before it drops down to the reality of a ‘dry pavement’ and Paul professes loud and proud ‘I’m on my way’. During all this he asks ‘What right have I to fall apart?’ and it is this bare honesty and open reality that make Paul and Scars so likeable. This album is his purge and it is in cathartic moments such as this that we too can enjoy the fresh air he is breathing in.

There has been lots of discussion about the merits of Paul’s voice and which artists it most sounds like. I myself can’t quite place it and I don’t want to as it is almost that inability to find an exact point of reference and the uneasiness of that which gives it its power. The lack of perfection or beauty, like a drunk rambling unheard prophecies, adds to the edge and makes the words seem far more believable than any you would find in a polished pop song from the top forty.

Despite his initial piano training (apparently failing his grade 8 first time around due to wearing an Iron Maiden t shirt – which I hope is true) it is the sound of the guitar that has become Paul’s friend in that time and it is no surprise as it is far more appropriate for the isolated wayfaring wanderer. Considering there are almost ten years of work in this album it manages to still blend seamlessly. The only question that remains is to ask why it has taken Paul so long to deliver his debut and I’d imagine it is simply because he wanted the first time to be right. Scars aren’t something that appear over night but something which take time. This is an album of moments and if you close your eyes it is so easy to create the mental pictures that build up the montage of Paul’s life.

Penultimate track Soaked To The Skin leaves us with the stark line ‘I don’t mind the rain when I’m soaked to the skin’. Defiantly Paul echoes out the last line of the song and whilst he, seemingly stands alone, he no longer sounds lonely and frail.