It would come as no surprise to me to find out that people have completely forgotten about Rob Dougan – The Matrix came out in 1999, fourteen years ago! It’s old enough to be featured on weekday nights on TCM. His initial and arguably most solid claim to fame came from the songs he wrote for the notorious movie’s score, and the only album he released came three years later, fundamentally different from the vibe he had been known for from The Matrix score. It was such an unusual record for him, and for the yearly “naughties”, that I get the feeling the critics were jarred (although mostly pleasantly surprised) and the public was baffled. Ever since, Rob Dougan has completely disappeared (save for a few songs he wrote for The Sugarbabes, oddly enough), leaving people like me gasping for more.
Half way between Tom Waits and Portishead, Rob Dougan’s sound is utterly distinctive and, as far as I’m concerned, unforgettable. I can’t think of one single track on this record that’s sub-par, there’s not one single moment which fails to keep up with the overall intensity – and what intensity, what teeth-gritting ferociousness infuses these songs. The album is one of the most eloquent distillations of despair I’ve ever heard, mostly mere millimeters away from melodrama, an unprecedented combination of adolescent angst and mature meditation, made complete by the dolorous contrast between the jagged, lumbering, ominous beats and the sweeping strings, the overwhelming orchestration and layering of the thing. It sounds like a masterpiece of patience and design, a sprawling scape of emotional architecture made sound, injected with urgency and anguish and breathtaking beauty. I simply can’t believe a songwriting talent like this would just completely shut off all output in such a cruel way – after announcing work on two separate albums at once, in 2006. Ever since, silence. It’d be furious if the situation weren’t so theatrically ironic somehow.
The music is formidably cinematic, it conveys a deep sense of narrative, hence my mentioning Portishead, while being wonderfully complemented by Rob Dougan’s voice, harrowed and shaking as it is. I might have been a bit shallow to mention Tom Waits in this context, based mostly on his ravaged timbre, because there’s little to no humor in these songs, unlike in most of Waits’ work, and much less metaphor, a much less poetic approach. The communication is direct, marred by a raw honesty, an un-crafted flow of emotion which makes me feel there’s something adolescent to this, some refreshing lack of constraint and social witticism, that “modern cool” which acts as a sort of defense mechanism, placing distance between the storyteller and the story. Rob Dougan doesn’t afford himself this luxury – this is music for the wounded, and it may leave one speechless if stumbled upon at the right time.
There really isn’t much more I want to say about this album. It’s one of those “desert island” disks for me, some of the best music to come out in the last decade or so. I honestly hope you get to enjoy it without the tempting emotional framework it seems to summon so easily. After endless plays, after a myriad moments bringing closure for various wounds, I feel I’m finally over that once-impassable barrage which didn’t allow me to write about Furious Angels until now. There is no detachment to be found when faced with this music… at this point, I think it would be disrespectful to pretend otherwise. In any case, enjoy!