Graham Reid | | 1 min read
In a recent interview with Moana Maniapoto on Māori Television's award-winning Te Ao programme, singer-songwriter Marlon Williams observed, “All songwriting is posturing in way. Acting, I guess.”
Given Williams (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāi Tahu) was named for Brando, has had a parallel screen career — most recently A Star is Born, True History of the Kelly Gang and the Netflix series Sweet Tooth – and has adopted roles in his videos (the tragic drama in Dark Child, and the comedic undercutting of the separation song Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore), he's in a prime position to comment.
If his catalogue of two previous solo albums impressed with its diversity and emotional depths — his break-up album Make Way For Love leavened by the enchanting, timeless 50s-shaped Pasifika title track – My Boy sounds like a man at ease with himself by tapping a lazy Pacific mood on the lush Easy Does It, confidently allowing himself to be carried away by 80s synths on the poppy River Rival and relaxing into the improbably slow, part ambient/ part baroque pop of Princes Walk.
Williams loosens himself from expectations of how that remarkable voice should be deployed by nudging onto Michael Jackson's dancefloor with the disco-influenced Don't Go Back,staying in the 80s for the chugging New Romantic/Ultravox sound of Thinking of Nina (inspired by the unsettling Netflix spy series The Americans) and closing with a cover of the melodramatic Barry Gibb-penned Promises written for Barbra Streisand.
This is an ambitious scope, even from someone who has previously covered Yoko Ono, traditional country songs and waiata in te reo Māori. The title track is an addictively poppy, Māori-strum love letter: “Nothing can touch my boy and he would never leave me. But if he did this sorry world would start to grieve me”.
Williams has said, “there's a lot of male shapes on the record . . . while masculinity is a big theme, it's really subsumed by broader explorations of vitality, and the social and cultural value placed on legacy”.
That quote might suggest a weighty album freighted with portentous meaning. But — aside from a few lines in the menacing crunch of the dynamically dramatic My Heart the Wormhole – nothing here strains for effect.
My Boy is an album where Marlon Williams never feels like he's posturing or acting. Just enjoying being his many selves.
You can hear and buy this album at bandcamp here.
MARLON WILLIAMS MY BOY TOUR 2023
Friday 20th January AUCKLAND – Civic Theatre
Wednesday 25th January WELLINGTON – Michael Fowler Centre
Friday 27th January CHRISTCHURCH – Town Hall
Saturday 28th January DUNEDIN – Regent Theatre