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The Last King is the new album from Pat Dam Smyth, his first for Belfast institution Quiet Arch Records (Ciaran Lavery, Joshua Burnside).
Along its mesmerising way, it takes in the Northern Ireland of the Troubles which formed a backdrop to Pat’s formative years; the angel on the sleeve of Nirvana’s In Utero; a psychotic episode in Berlin and The Last King himself. Pat recorded The Last King in Ireland and London over a period of two years, and when Bad Seeds drummer Jim Sclavunos heard early versions of the songs, he leapt on board for additional production and mixing duties, dropping some extra dark magic into the fire.
As the Floyd-esque swirling synths of Kids open the album, mimicking the sound of the Chinooks that beat out the soundtrack to Pat’s childhood, the scene is set for an album that takes the listener deep into the rubble; no sooner have your ears adjusted to the dark than they are blinded by the light. While the album may not quite be a love letter to the Northern Ireland of his youth, it is certainly a fling with his formative experiences and defining decisions he made.
The Last King is a record of tender, guttural fragility and razor sharp yet vulnerable explosions of rage at the cards he holds and those he’s discarded, all the while laced with an optimism that carries you through; an optimism that makes a bargain with tragedy in Where The Light Goes – reminiscent of early Lambchop or Bill Callaghan before turning into a sing-along for the end-of-times – and an optimism that helped Pat himself survive a breakdown in a city and country where he didn’t know a soul, the subject of Goodbye Berlin.
This is an album of pop-philosophy; choosing quiet storms of suggestion rather than frenzied outpourings of blame. And in this world he has created, Pat stands perhaps less a reluctant king, and more as an emperor of short circuiting nostalgia; a tailor of hope; and an accidental voice of our times.