Joseph Arthur has been working his way around the music scene for close to twenty years now since he first played the bass in Frankie Starr and the Chill Factor at the tender age of 16. The Ballad of Boogie Christ is his tenth studio album to date and might be his most interesting so far.
An interesting mix of folk-rock, Arthur has a large sound to his work that he has perfected over years of performances. What makes The Ballad of Boogie Christ so notable however is the fact that it’s a two disc album which somehow forms a type of folk-rock opera within its lifespan. Over the 24 tracks there is a semblance of some form of quasi-religious narrative not too dissimilar from the track The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead by XTC.
Picking apart that narrative is somewhat more complicated however as there aren’t any clear-cut beginnings, middles or even endings. It’s a collection of 24 short stories that string together to form various different chapters from Arthur’s life or thoughts. As varied as these chapters are they are fascinating and funny by turn. Each song leaves the listener to make up their own mind about what they’ve just heard and how to apply it to the rest of the album.
Both lyrically and vocally Arthur shares a certain resemblance to the earlier music of Beck, around his Sea Change days. An alternative form of rock music that’s boosted by a wide variety of instruments and musicians that couple in with his apt and occasionally odd lyrics. His songs can switch from the serious to the comical and on occasion overlap the two. At first listening to his song The Ballad you might be struck by the comically blasphemous nature as he tells us how ‘Christ would wear cowboy boots/Christ would have sex’; but it’s far from it as the song ultimately reveals itself to be a more entertaining tale of acceptance.
The most impressive part of The Ballad of Boogie Christ isn’t just the carefully crafted lyrics or the subtle musical choices that accompany it, but rather its clear scope for adaptation in the future. With 24 tracks in total it could easily be applied to a further story – to flesh out those missing beginnings, middles and ends – and be turned into the next rock-opera to rival The Who’s 1975 Tommy. We can but hope.
For more information on Joseph Arthur, check out his website here:
Review by Joe Knipe