There will be some who will balk at an album where each and every song is named after a different bible verse. Then there will be others who will fervently use this to find some higher meaning in John Darnielle’s customarily intriguing lyrics, listening with a bible in their hand to reveal religious insights that frankly may or may not be there.
I, however, am determined to do neither of these, for judging this album by its inlay misses the point entirely – even if it is overtly religious in places, The Life of the World to Come is ultimately a highly ambiguous album. Darnielle’s voice is too melancholy to convincingly sing a song of praise, despite his commandment to “believe in your heart and confess with your lips” on ‘Romans 10:9’, while ‘Matthew 25:21’, where he crashes uncontrollably into grief with the loss of a loved-one, is so intensely personal and powerful on its own that the reference to any alternative source of meaning is utterly extraneous.
Tellingly, it is when Darnielle directly uses the biblical text that the result is least effective. I do apologise, for I know this will sound sacrilegious, but with its snarling vocals heavy with religious imagery, twitchy, furious guitars and the refrain “He has raised me from the pit and set me high”, ‘Psalms 40:2’ sounds a little bit too much like spoof-rockers Tenacious D to be taken seriously. There – I’ve said it. Forgive me, for I have sinned. Yet the album is instantly redeemed as soon as ‘Genesis 3:23’ sparks up, recalling The Sunset Tree’s ‘This Year’ with its up-beat defiance thinly masking a darker past.
Anyone looking to use The Mountain Goats’ latest offering to prove a religious point of their own will be disappointed. This is an overwhelmingly personal album with so much subtle beauty and insight that it would be disrespectful to not approach and treat it as a work of art in itself, rather than merely as a commentary on some old book.
Words: Lois Jeary