The most remarkable thing about Transnormal Skiperoo is the conspicuous near-absence of death. No murder, no serial murders, no renegade killer preachermen, no suitcases of love letters floating forlornly down muddy rivers. And except for one song, there is little heed paid to death’s corollaries – unmendable heartbreak, despair, wounds that never heal.
The subject of the majority of Transnormal Skiperoo’s songs is a topic treated with almighty ambivalence in White’s previous efforts – life, and the acceptance of life. Where his previous work was full of characters for whom existence was full of punishment and pain (including himself), parts of Transnormal sound like a relief. He might sing “the days of our innocence and grace blow by”, on bright, breezy opener “A Town Called Amen”, but the tone is anything but morbid. The epoymous town is plainly a metaphor for salvation, described by White with an ease that betrays familiarity.
White is a man with an extensive history of rootlessness, and the drifter’s perspective continues to inform his outlook. “Jailbird” finds comfort in the moment when it all gets too much and the only solution is to hit the road: “dream of wipers in the rain/tapping out time/coming up on a new state line”. The palpable sense of release emphasises the point that wandering, even if unfulfilled, is always preferable to the rot of over-familiarity.
White’s trademark wise man delivery is still here, but for the first time his singing sounds positively tuneful; witness the chorus of “Blindly We Go”, which also showcases a newfound melodic polish noticeable on “Amen” and the whimsical “Turquoise House”. The latter is another song about acceptance, this time of White’s own oddball ways, expressed with characteristic wit; “If you say your prayers at night/and comb your hair just right/you might not feel like you’re in hell/but then again, you might.”
“Take Me Away” narrates the final moments of a deranged, tormented soul in the path of a hurtling freight train, as clickety-clackety drums ape the relentless rhythm of wheel on track. It’s very much in the vein of his previous ‘death ballads’, which lends it an oddly incongruous feel given the rest of the album’s mood. Other songs in the album’s second half are slightly homogenous, tending to blur into one another and settling into the sort of trip-hop groove you suspect White could turn out in his sleep.
But things are rounded off in appropriately nostalgic style for closer “Its Been a Long Long Day”. White describes a situation of bittersweet tranquillity, adopting a child’s perspective to convey a feeling which is equal parts relief and longing. “Dear Lord make the flickering hands of fate/finally flip the page to the yellow sun/of my coming age.” White may have found something resembling inner peace, but the journey – for his characters and himself – continues.
Words: Carey Davies
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