Album review: Chris Wood, None the Wiser (R.U.F.)

Album of the week: Wise words from a topical troubadour who's a class act

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The Independent Culture

Just when you're starting to despair of popular culture's ability to tackle the ever more grotesque inequities thrown up by our lottery society, along comes Chris Wood to remind you that the sharpest dissection sometimes comes in simple, six-string form, here augmented by brooding organ and weary string bass.

Wood is one of our finest songwriters, a brilliant exponent of the topical troubadour form, and rarely on better form than he is with None the Wiser. The title track alone is a masterpiece of concentrated anger and despair distilled into razoring, sardonic lines, a bleak portrait of the modern Britain of job clubs, pound shops, army recruitment offices and pitiful McJobs that proves we're never all in this together.

“It's not the strongest that go forward, it's the ones that can adapt,” notes Wood, his revision of social Darwinism borne out by the perplexing course of Recession Britain, where none from top to bottom seems to have a clue, just more ways to conceal the venal truth: “I just had an hour with a financial adviser, but I'm none the wiser.” But there's a resolute quality about the jaunty guitar picking that hints at deeper protest. Likewise, Wood's provision of a new melody for “Jerusalem” restores something of its revolutionary spirit, by dispelling the bogus uplift inflicted by Hubert Parry on Blake's probing queries.

Elsewhere, by warning against the clichés of midlife crisis, “Thou Shalt” delves deeper into the bitterness of ageing in a brutal recession; while flugelhorn adds poignancy to “The Sweetness Game”, an underclass lament about how these “nitty gritty” times are made more bearable by the enduring affection of long-term relationships.

None of this, of course, is exactly news, as Wood acknowledges in “A Whole Life Lived”, when he hears a youngster “talking the same shite” that he did at that age. Eschewing criticism in favour of a deeper rumination on the way things inevitably are, it's one of the most insightful reflections on ageing that I've ever heard: “How much better then it is to simply think you know it all, than to feel like you've heard it all before”.

Download: None the Wiser; The Sweetness Game; A Whole