When I first heard Matt Berry had an album out it was from a commenter somewhere below the line on The Guardian’s web site. As it was a suggestion for one of the albums of the year so far I took it for the knowing, ironic suggestion it surely had to be. I mean, really: Matt Berry? Dr Sanchez from Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace? The inheriting head of Reynholm Industries? The constant voice of Absolute Radio spots?
This reaction to the idea of Berry making actual music can’t be uncommon. As uncommon, I’d say, as the surprise and delight of listening for the first time and finding out that he’s the real deal. On Kill the Wolf he continues where earlier release Witchazel left off, to deliver an album of enchanting psych-folk, cut through with a little prog and a pinch of lyrical oddness. Just a pinch, mind, and it’s a sense of otherness well in keeping with the albums moods and themes.
Kill The Wolf radiates lingering sinisterness. Word associate to its lighter moments and you might think of summer fayre, maypoles and quaint rural custom, but as the sun dips down these are replaced by bonfires and the black cloak of night. It’s a very pagan darkness; a new soundtrack for The Wicker Man, filtered through the smoky gauze of Matt Berry’s mind.
As he himself describes it, the album is about:
the devil and the saint inside us all, and how hard we try to let the best man win, whomever you may consider that to be.
It’s a theme made explicit on the atypically poppy Devil Inside Me:
All that I could be
Is all that I’ll never be
Obsessed with this journey
Of houses and money
With nothing to play for
Where no one looks at me
That’s all I need when the devil’s inside me
Along with Devil Inside Me, the other singalong pop moment on the album is Medicine, featuring a guest spot from ex-Bluetone Mark Morriss. Here, to keep the off-beat flag flying, Berry has a stab at rhyming medicine with venison. Amazingly, it works pretty well in the context of the track, one of the more openly playful moments on Kill The Wolf.
Elsewhere there are two instrumentals - Wolf Quartet and Village Dance, the latter taking its melodic cue from another song on the album, October Sun, while opening track Gather Up is a herbal chant with flute. If that doesn’t grab you, there’s Solstice, the album’s center-piece, and nine and a half minutes charting the shortest day to the longest. Inspired in part by multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield (with a few exceptions, Berry plays all the instruments on Kill The Wolf), it’s a musical journey from folk to the excesses of psych-rock.
Solstice probably isn’t for everyone. Knock Knock and Bonfire, on the other hand, both show a remarkable lightness of touch and deserve an audience far wider than either are likely to find appearing two thirds of the way through an album by someone far better known for a comically exaggerated acting style. You can, and you should, fix this.
What’s in it for you? I don’t know. A kit-kat?