The Greatest Album You Don’t Own: Just Like Blood by Tom McRae

Though unkindly coined as "bed-wetting music", Tom McRae's second album is a melancholic triumph.
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Though unkindly coined as "bed-wetting music", Tom McRae's second album is a melancholic triumph.

Back in 2004 I did some Scottish A&R scouting work for various London based labels too lazy to traverse Hadrian’s Wall with their client brief which generally centred around finding “another Franz Ferdinand only better, younger and edgier”. In return I’d pitch exciting demos of Math Rock bands, Hair Metal mentalists or Hip-Hop collectives. With patience wearing thin, they’d respond by sending me more material from their current stable of artists so I could “get a better feel” of what type of younger Snow Patrol replicants they were after signing.

One of these labels, db Records, sent me their two main artists back catalogues which consisted of the perfectly acceptable Electric Soft Parade and a singer/songwriter called Tom McRae. As you may have guessed my ears weren’t particularly attuned to the genre Alan McGee unkindly coined ‘Bedwetter Music’ but in the name of being professional I piled reluctantly into Mr McRae’s stark eponymous debut album without it making much of an impression.

The 2003 follow up ‘Just Like Blood’ was however a different matter all together.

Listening to certain tracks such as ‘You Only Disappear’ or ‘Walk To Hawaii’ leaves you feeling transported into one of those emotionally manipulative slow-mo montages at the end of American TV dramas such as Greys Anatomy or House.

Taking Tom McRaes haunting voice and melancholy songwriting skills, producer Ben Hillier added sweeping orchestrations and world music percussion to give the emotive feel of the album deep resonance. McRaes tales of desperate relationship failure, suicidal urges and of discovering strength from depths within carry weight and beauty throughout. Soaring piano choruses veer off eclectic verses stuttered through with African drums or staccato acoustic guitars all underpinned with whispy lyrics of sadness and yearning.

In its basic sense ‘Just Like Blood’ attempts to capture the aural embodiments of grief, despair and hard earned hope. To allow the listener the indulgence of experiencing those painful but redemptive feelings without offering an escape route in the form of false expectation. Listening to certain tracks such as ‘You Only Disappear’ or ‘Walk To Hawaii’ leaves you feeling transported into one of those emotionally manipulative slow-mo montages at the end of American TV dramas such as Greys Anatomy or House.

To say it’s an album you need to be in the mood to listen to is a massive understatement. The depressive nature of the content brackets it in that thorny album category with the likes of ‘Nebraska’ by Springsteen or ‘Closer’ by Joy Division. But as most well rounded consumers of music will know it can’t all just be euphoric Balearic beats or angry hip-hop there’s room for deep melancholy in all our music collections. ‘Just Like Blood’ will take you there and back in a lingering but beautifully sad journey.

Unfortunately it’s also an album that went largely unnoticed upon release. A brief swatch at the Mercury Prize Nominees for 2003 unveils a veritable battalion of bedwetters in Athlete, Coldplay and Radiohead whilst albums by Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire and Snow Patrol easily eclipsed ‘Just Like Blood’. However, it remains an important part of my music collection, nestled on my I-pod between Tinie Tempah and Toots & The Maytals (Alarmingly I just noticed Toploader are there too - I blame that on my wife).

So, the next time life kicks you in the clockweights, steals your best intentions and leaves you at home with a bottle of cheap red for consolation, soundtrack your pain with ‘Just Like Blood’ it’s the greatest album you don’t own.

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