Love, Death and Dancing: Jack Garratt’s Masterpiece of Emotional Honesty
When lockdown was announced, I, like many others, was shocked and saddened at the thought of having to stay inside for an extended period. Stuck inside with no hope of social contact, I had no idea what I was going to do with myself for all that time. But, as lockdown has progressed, a tide of exciting, inventive music washing across streaming platforms as if to save us from the perils of boredom. Just a couple of weeks ago I was blown away by Charli XCX’s fantastically open pop/bubble-gum bass fusion record how i’m feeling now. I didn’t expect that I’d have the pleasure of reviewing another stellar project so soon, but Jack Garratt has outdone himself with his brand new electro-indie record Love, Death and Dancing.
Like Charli’s record, Love, Death and Dancing is a seamless blend of moods and sentiments that manages to remain incredibly cohesive. I should say first that Spotify (I’m not sure about other streaming services) has the songs in the wrong order. A quick Google of the physical copy will show you the correct order, just in case this review seems confusing. Anyway, back to the music. Jack writes a lot about his insecurities and struggles with mental health on this project, but those worries are presented in such a compelling way that you’d be forgiven on first listen to mistake this as just a collection of bangers. Don’t get me wrong – this is a record full of tracks that absolutely slap but hiding behind the impeccably-mixed percussion and sparkling synths is a man who is worried about himself and his position in the world. The very first lyrics of the record set the tone for these anxieties, as Jack sings “They haven’t come for me / I’m not the main event”. Following this lowkey intro, Return them to the One develops into a wildly energetic dubstep-inspired rager… but those first lyrics stay with you as Jack melodiously screams his way through the song’s choruses.
The opening track’s energy is matched by Get in My Way, a song that I interpret as Jack expressing the energy he feels when performs on stage, “spinning in my plastic jacket”, “screaming” at “spotlight darkness”. In these moments of artistic expression, he feels euphoric: “building, breaking, birthing, killing”, knowing that “nothing’s gonna get in my way”. However, in the next song, Better, Jack’s insecurities start to show: he feels that “something’s telling me to hurt myself / something’s eating at me.” In response, he wonders whether “if I can take something to make me feel better… everything will work itself out.” It’s tempting to take this nod to self-medication on face value as Jack wondering whether turning to illicit drugs could be the answer to his worries. But I think he’s also wondering about getting help, whether that be in the form of pharmaceutical medication, therapy, or just reaching out to someone close to him.
It’s from here on that the record takes a tonal shift, with Jack moving away from club-ready bangers to songs that delve into introspection. Jack starts to open up, specifically about his concerns about his own inadequacy. On Doctor Please, Jack sings that “if it was that easy then I’d love myself / and openly admit that I might need help”. He worries that, compared to his significant other, he’s not good enough: “what if I’m not worthy enough to love you back?” The next four songs continue to walk down this path – Jack takes two steps forward towards recognising his issues on Mend a Heart, but on Anyone he takes one step back, “in more pain than the night before” thanks to “liquid regret”. I’m sure we can all relate to that. On Anyone he continues to torture himself for his struggles, singing that “somebody who suffers silently ain’t worthy” worrying that “every night I fear you’ll realise / time spent with me is time spent sacrificed”. “I’m terrified of being myself,” he admits, asking “how can I accept your love / when I don’t even trust myself”.
Mara sees Jack reach the record’s third act, in which he finally appears to address his issues, personifying them as a nameless entity that has been “beating on his chest”. Rather than try and run he asks that this being “ask allow me to talk with you instead”. From here we hear the distinctly hopeful Time, wherein Jack repeatedly acknowledges that “time is on your side” as the song dissolves into the droning question of “are you ready?” Exactly what he is referring to is left unclear – is Jack ready to get help? To give himself wholly up to love? To reconcile with the issues that have been tormenting him? What we do know is that the phenomenally emotional She Will Lay My Body on the Stone and the ethereal Only the Bravest convey a stunning shift to Jack looking forward to the future. The former is, in my opinion, the emotional centre of Love, Death and Dancing. She Will Lay floors me each time I listen to it – it’s a raw and uncompromisingly honest confession of the self in relation to another which my music-grad friend described as hymn-like, made all the more authentic due to the stripped-back instrumentation of piano and vocals that stands out from the dense electronica of the rest of the record. As for Only the Bravest, I only need hear the outro, which is a recording from Jack’s wedding, to understand the heart and soul that he has put into this entire record, and how much it clearly means to him as a piece of art.
Love, Death and Dancing is without a doubt one of the most emotionally compelling musical projects I’ve heard in the last year. I say ‘musical project’ and not ‘album’ because LDD is a true piece of artistic expression; it is so much more than just a collection of songs. The themes of emotional honesty are so strong throughout the record that I’m confident it will stand out as one of the most intriguing and rewarding pieces of work in the electronica/indie genre for a long time. Jack’s frankness about his struggles with mental illness -and how they’ve affected his life and relationships- is so important for today’s audience to hear – to return to Doctor Please, Jack sings “If home is where the heart is / mine’s falling down,” but the war-cry of mental health awareness hangs ever-present in the air on the song’s chorus: “it’s alright not to be okay.” To present all of the topics that he does on this record in such a compelling and exciting musical format is testament to Jack Garratt’s talent, and I can’t wait to see where his voice develops from here.