George Mallas’ album Unscathed comes out of the traps on an enthusiastic cloud of classic songwriting tropes. Opening song, I’m Gone sounds like an Alan Parsons Project cut for the 21st century as it powers along on a flurry of drums and announces that the narrator has gone ‘back out here on the road’. And you can imagine that this kind of song would indeed go down very well live. The saxophone plays wonderfully well off of the lead vocal, fulfilling the role that might be expected of backing vocals and adds plenty of hooks.
A tight band is backing these tunes up and George’s mellow tones are sweetly tuneful and tell the Unscathed stories with precision and enthusiasm. There are some playful moments of messing with the expected rhythm which serves to drive the tunes forward and add character to proceedings.
The intriguingly-titled God And My Girlfriend is up next, and provides a wholesome and lilting counterpoint to the opening song. Some authentic fiddle and a dry, almost spoken vocal put across the struggle of our narrator being taunted by the Devil. The vocal is more experimental here, syncopated and legato in equal measure, but always serving the song very well. The piano, fiddle and the rest of the instrumentation do a great job of waltzing the piece to an all-too-soon conclusion that shows the breadth of the compositions on offer here.
Piano takes centre stage for I Take A Walk, which is a duet featuring a thoughtful lyric which is essentially a treatise on the meaning and value of love. The fact that a man and a woman are both featured ruminating on these eternal questions is particularly satisfying, and the voices blend together well on some tight harmonies.
First Time Last Time (Old Man’s Rant) is a title which gives a pretty good indication of what to expect. But you’d be wrong. It’s a highly tuneful rendition of a life lived – and some sharing of the wisdom derived from having lived it. The guitar, percussion and guitars are all syncopated with the vocal at certain points and this lends a metronomic inevitability to proceedings which hints at the idea of passing time… as it details the importance of loyalty, integrity, consistency and friendship in a heartfelt musing upon life’s journey.
Jenny is up next. Ah, Jenny. I’m a sucker for songs like this. You hope it’ll be sad and mournful in the best tradition of country ballads and George delivers. Piano and violin carve out a sorrowful intro and ongoing accompaniment. I’m not going to spoil the surprise of the narrative here, but a surprise it certainly was, and very refreshing it is, too.
You Fell For Me marks the halfway point, and the saxophone makes a welcome return. A toe-tapper that reminds me of a Bryan Ferry track, but with a bit more rhythmic poke than that smooth operator.
Lethal Dose is another wistful tune, mournful and something that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Leonard Cohen album (If sung an octave lower). The piano and violin provide rhythmic and melodic support to a terribly sad tale.
It’s at this point that I remember this collection of songs is called Unscathed. I’m not convinced someone who can articulate the loss and sorrow that permeates a lot of the tracks here could genuinely be that. But maybe it’s just meant to mean that the protagonist has survived these hardships; is still stood tall having weathered the storm. Is looking onward and upward. After all, that is the only way. Arguably!
Flute adds a new texture to The Problem. It’s domestic violence on the agenda here, and our narrator is going to get it solved. It’s a mix of upbeat energy and resolute decision-making in the lyric. It’s powerful stuff and hits the topic square on the nose. I have to admit I didn’t see it coming in this collection. Kudos to George Mallas. As listeners, we are suddenly complicit in a final act of revenge, so if this goes to court, I want a separate lawyer!
From The Problem to the melancholy Ends of the Earth and on to the bittersweet Beatles-esque duet of Standing In The Rain. As this collection winds down, I’m becoming aware that Unscathed is a journal of reflection: sometimes regretful, sometimes forthright and sometimes outright helpless, too. It’s a direct collection that needs a resounding conclusion.
Tidings And Cheer is a very human message. The pragmatism and emotional resonance of getting ready for Christmas is used as a metaphor for the absurdity and wonder and business of modern life. For any life. The slightly archaic title and noisy vocal track all add to the humanity. Unscathed? I doubt it. We all get a little battered along the way. Here’s a grown-up collection of songs to dip into to accompany us on the ultimate journey…
Check out the album via George’s Website.