Ron Sexsmith returns after a two year hiatus, with his new eleven track LP “Forever Endeavour.” The album is the 13th in the singer’s impressive back catalogue, which sees a career spanning over twenty years. Born in Ontario, Canada, Sexsmith began his career in 1991, when his first album Grand Opera Lane was released to critical acclaim. This quick success saw him collaborate with the likes of Coldplay’s Chris Martin and have his songs covered by various artists such as Micheal Buble and Rod Stewart. His 2002 album, “Cobblestone Runaway” became his most famous yet, with critics from the Guardian calling it “his best album yet” Certainly, this album was his most radio friendly endeavour, which saw many similar releases to come.
This brings us to now to the highly anticipated “Forever Endeavour.” While after “Cobblestone Runaway,” Sexsmith became known for his own brand of depressing folk pop, this formula soon began to wear thin with most critics, leaving only the die – hard fans standing. While his 2001 hit was written in the midst of the break – up of his marriage, giving his anguished lyrics justification, this album feels as though Sexsmith is running on false melancholy. While, he knows now that this formula works for him and he does it well, the sadness surrounding the tracks still comes across as forced.
Working with long – term friend and producer Michael Froom, who worked with Sexsmith on his first three albums, the album goes back to Sexsmiths acoustic roots. While the woodwinds, trumpets and violins that have made his previous albums more accessible and radio friendly are still intact, the lyrics are pure Sexsmith. “This record is probably my most personal and I don’t know why. This record seems to be more wistful I guess you could say. I am looking back with regret and maybe questioning some of my behaviour and past mistakes.”
The album begins with the folk – influenced, but strangely upbeat “Nowhere to Go.” This song sticks to his usual formula of upbeat music, juxtaposed with extremely melancholic vocals. A depressing opener, but one loyal Sexsmith fans are sure to love. “Nowhere Is” and “If only Avenue” follow much the same formula with Sexsmith in a more nostalgic mood. “Nowhere Is” sounds more hopeful, which sets us up for the rest of the album. “If Only Avenue” is full of regret as the title suggests, which brings the listener crashing down once again after the high of the second track. It soon becomes clear that the album is a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs.
The next track “Snake Road” is easily the most upbeat of the album, seeing Sexsmith in the reflective mood that he had mentioned in various interviews. He looks back on his life with humour, delivering lines such as “When I think about those dark days/I was doin’ everybody wrong/couldn’t keep my thoughts straight/couldn’t keep my trousers on.” The song bounces along with hopeful vigour with the catchy chorus “And I hope I don’t go down that same road twice” tying the song together nicely. This may be the most positive track in Sexsmith’s career, and this regretful but hopeful Elliott Smith – esque song writing really suits him.
Sadly this is short lived as “Blind Eye” comes in. As Sexsmith tries to tackle universal sadness, as well as his own, he ends up sounding like a whining crooner. “Lost In Thought” in his attempt at a love song but feels like the longest, most tedious two minutes of my life. “Deepens With Time” is much of the same, but less uncomfortable, while “Back Of My Hand” tries to recreate the positivity “ Snake Road” but just sounds tired and forced.
“Me, Myself and Wine” is the most relaxed song on the album, inspired by his time in Nashville, it is an ode to alcohol and good times, and is easy listening at its best. The album closes with “The Morning Light” which is a beautiful closing track, leaving you with the feeling Sexsmith is finishing a chapter of his life and about to start a happier one.
Overall, I felt the album was monotonous, especially towards the end, with each track blending in to one large monotone drawl. It had some highs with “Snake Road” and “Me Myself and Wine” being favourites, but the rest of the tracks lacked any passion from Sexsmith in what he was singing, given the impression he wasn’t enjoying himself at all. Musically and production wise it was stunning, the arrangements flawless, but lyrically just woeful. Hopefully in the future, Sexsmith can break out of the role of being this generation’s troubled singer/songwriter and embrace the positivity that hindsight has gifted him.
Best tracks: Snake Road, Me, Myself and Wine.