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MUSIC/ Ben Cooper: A journey of runaways and returns

Carlo Torniai reviews Ben Cooper’s new album, Radical Face The Family Tree: The Roots, the first in a trilogy of albums the singer/songwriter is planning.

Ben Cooper of Radical Face Ben Cooper of Radical Face

Ben Cooper returns with the second album of his one man band installment Radical Face. The theme of the whole album is set from the first short song Names - almost a lullaby that could have been the end of the album rather than it’s beginning:

"This road is now my only friend
It welcomes me through straights and to bend
But no matter how long I stay
It'll never know my name
Oh, I am a long way from home"

The theme is life as a journey and the ties of this journey with the past. A journey made of runaways and returns, memories and relationships that are rendered through the whole album by alternating foreground/ background between memories (the past as family bounds, the roots of the title) and the present struggling to find (or the longing coming from having missed) a place to call home, a place to be loved and to be who you're supposed to be.

The Roots definitely holds less of the visionary mood of the album Ghost: the songs now have a more clear - still yet extremely poetic- narrative. Ben has also left behind - together with the whiny themes that characterized his previous work of as Electric President - the heavy layers of samples and electronic textures, leaning towards a more sober, delicate, yet intense, dreamy folk atmosphere.

Musically there is a unity that makes The Roots sounds more like an album rather than a set of songs (which was probably the main defect of Ghost). This doesn't mean that Ben is delivering something flat. While he’s still building songs around simple catchy melodies, at the same time he has reached a maturity that doesn’t seek consistency in artificial grandeur but finds a gracious balance between lyrics and music.

Ben's capability of writing poetic, poignant and strongly visual lyrics is witnessed through the entire album but it shines in particular in some songs. For instance in Severus and Stone, where the trees the snow, the fire and the winter are turned into characters:

"All the trees stood like skeletons
silhouettes of spilled ink
and the snow fell in sheet and got wrapped around our feet
we built the fire evermore with winter beating at the door"