SJD: Songs from a Dictaphone (Round Trip Mars/EMI)

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SJD: Lucifer
SJD: Songs from a Dictaphone (Round Trip Mars/EMI)

My guess is critical consensus on this album will settle on the phrase, "not as good as the last one". But that last one, the sublime Southern Lights of 2004, set such a high threshold that SJD (Sean James Donnelly) was always going to have that comment aimed at him.

That said, there is something to it: I Wrote This Song For You and Just Say No To The Disco Inferno here seem slight, if cheerfully poppy.

Yet everywhere else this Auckland multi-instrumentalist, songcraftsman and multiple threat offers such memorable songs and clever (but not clever-clever) ideas that this seduces at almost every turn.

So here are lovely ballads; vocal deliveries like Bono at his most sensitive best (Lucifer) or Roxy-period Bryan Ferry (I Am The Radio); suggestions of Penguin Cafe Orchestra quirkiness (the hypnotic Black is a Beautiful Colour); and gorgeous tracks such Beautiful Haze and The Last I Saw of Maryanne.

The trilogy of "religious songs" at the centre -- Jesus, I Am The Radio and Lucifer -- might be a matter of taste for some (they sound fine and even amusing to me). Lyrically SJD is as allusive as ever ("rise up and smash your beautiful chains"), but what is intriguing here is just how much 80s electrofunk pop (Roxy, OMD and Pseudo Echo -- which is a compliment!) has been assimilated into his own distinctive musical voice.

Remarkable stuff. So over the long haul, "not as good as the last one" seems pretty irrelevant.

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