This is a review of "Empty Threats and Recurring Themes" recorded by Ali Whitton and the Broke Record Players. The review was written by Lauren Strain in 2006.
“And you say I’m too young to know what I mean – well, you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong about me” protests Ali Whitton alongside his newly-expanded band to open his new EP, ‘Empty Threats and Recurring Themes’, challenging all those who doubt his belief in every single word he sings or think he’s exaggerating, making it all up, even. What, Ali, pretend?! Ali, with those honest, eager eyes and smiling, hopeful face, his hands clasped round a trusty, gentle guitar, blinking a little under the lights? Never. These songs are close to him – part of him – and the title track of his latest offering defends them and everything they stand for without even a microscopic trace of anger or bitterness at being misunderstood. Nope - as always, he’s just saying what he needs to. You get the feeling that, although this is all a hugely important catharsis for Ali, he wants to make sure it’s one that always sounds brimming with optimism, even if this positivity sometimes struggles in his words of heartache and downfalls.
For sure, something despairing and morose creaks into the fabric of ‘The Cruelty That Becomes You’, as Ali’s thoughts descend into the darkness of dusk, dabbling in revenge, loss, bitterness, hopelessness – “I hope that you are comfortable when your senses slowly fade, that the instant consciousness declines requests to stay awake; I hope you see my slaughter and my death bereaves your soul, and may your heart learn how to suffer through the bleakness of it all.” Possibly his most pensive, shiversome song yet, it echoes with a ghostly loneliness as the dampened, plucked strings of Naomi’s viola, which would normally be singing and soaring out, wander around, trapped and alone as though looking for an escape and warmth. Somewhere, there’s a gale sweeping past an icy window, an empty house and a waning open fire, blazing out to no one with embers deadening on the hearth. Ali contemplates a past that hurts but cannot be revisited – all we can do is hope that, one day, other people realise just what they’ve put us through as he asks, in his always-reasonable, never-malicious tones, for a little justice.
Lee Potter’s almost-weeping electric guitar cuts through ‘Waiting For Morning To Come’ after Sam Stockdale’s voice has flown up to the skies on the wings of a mournful lap steel played by recent addition Tim Corbridge. It yearns and cries, before shushing right back down to almost nothing, to the beginning; Ali’s still there, waiting, whilst wavering sounds of the night swoop by and the time ticks slowly. Eventually, his hauntings wind down into sleep and the steel trails off into the distance, settling alone.
Saying everything you could never manage yourself in a few words, and with such surprising starkness and simplicity, nothing is left intact – a searing honesty and a belief in expressing everything possible, no matter how personal the ordeal, is the heart of Ali’s music; and sometimes, the things he says and the way he says them are so close to the bone that they’ve already stopped hurting and begun to heal you. The four tracks of ‘Empty Threats and Recurring Themes’ balance a maturing ambition with an entranced innocence – and, as is Ali’s trademark, any moments where he loses faith are always emboldened by his ever-eager hope and love for promise. This twenty three year old boy from heaven via Osmotherley just keeps on getting about fourteen times more accomplished each day.