We first started pulling together our end of year list back in October. By that point in the year, you’ve got a pretty idea about who you feel deserves an extra mention. Our first draft didn’t mention Martin Rossiter though – We’d spotted him playing bass innocuously in Call Me Jolene, and heard some positive second hand reports about his performance at The Wedding Present’s At The Edge Of The Sea all dayer back in August, but we didn’t think that was quite enough for him to make our list. But then a couple of weeks ago, we got hold of his first album in over a decade, and we knew that our list needed changing straight away. The Defenestration of St Martin is tender, emotional and personal. It’s cruel yet majestic, cold yet beautiful.
The past casts two very long shadows over The Defenestration of St Martin. The first is that of Martin Rossiter’s musical history with Gene, who he fronted back in the nineties. They were pigeonholed as britpop, but there was always something a bit more complex and cerebral about their lyrics and their music. Events conspired such that despite their differences, their career would follow a similar arc to britpop, and Gene split up in the early noughties. Music continue to flow through Rossiter’s veins though – teaching at Brighton’s ATM college, still writing for himself, and picking up the bass to play in Call Me Jolene. Now, more than eleven years after the last Gene album, Martin Rossiter has released a new record.
The other long shadow over the record is the pain that Rossiter has suffered over the years. If ten minute opener Three Points on a Compass – an incredibly personal, beautiful but damning song about his father – doesn’t have you crying into your headphones, then quite frankly, you’ve got no heart. Difficult lyrical matter continues throughout, as titles like I Want To Choose When I Sleep Alone, No One Left To Blame and My Heart’s designed for Pumping Blood attest, with little respite throughout. This isn’t an album to cheer yourself up to by listening to the words.
However, this doesn’t mean that the album isn’t a thing of magnificent beauty. Musically, simplicity rules throughout with Rossiter’s voice, stronger than ever, soaring over fantastic ballads with no instruments other than piano. Rossiter describes the tracks as secular hymns, and there is a very religious feel to everything here – slightly solemn, with very eloquent, articulate lyrics. The lightest moment on the record comes from the least religious moment with the most religious – I Must Be Jesus – sounding almost a show tune, with deliberately over the top lyrics, exaggerated for effect. Only in it’s closing moments does the album does the album allow itself to break free. In the last minute of Let The Waves Carry You drums beat and a guitar riff kicks off before the album fades out, a reminder of the music that Rossiter used to make, and hopefully a pointer to what we might expect in future, now that he’s back in the limelight.