Run Fast Sleep Naked (Future Classic)
What I find most intriguing about the first album from Nick Murphy, which is actually the second album from the artist formerly known as Chet Faker, is that the line between comfort and discomfort, between turning inwards and facing outwards, between a man settled and a man in flux, is never entirely rubbed out.
Ostensibly, at least in his public statements, this record is the culmination of his reassessment of life after the emotionally overwhelming success of the Chet Faker EP, Thinking In Textures, and album, Built On Glass, through 2014.
As he told me two years ago, "2014 was without question the worst year of my life. If you look at that year on paper, that doesn't make sense. People would say what are you talking about, you travelled the world, you got all this stuff, played all these big TV shows. But it was processing: I was trying to make sense of all that shit, but it doesn't make sense. I went nuts: completely isolated and I kinda lost it."
His solutions included moving to New York, finding some new collaborators to take him further away from the man-in-a-room atmosphere, and expanding both the sonic palette and the locations/source material. Getting out of his own head was the point, basically.
Overall – overwhelmingly - that’s what’s happened: this is not the sound of a man retreating. It has energy and curiosity, it moves and challenges, it casts its eyes upwards. And it sounds opened up, whether it is the brass underpinning in Never No and synthesised strings of Harry Takes Drugs On The Weekend or the choral support in the churchified Dangerous.
Most obviously, in songs such as Sunlight (briskly propulsive bass and busy, simple keyboards entwined with snaking guitar) and Sanity (up-tempo R&B with ‘80s keys and pocket strings) the feel is anything but claustrophobic and the attitude is one of taking in the world as you might take someone to your bed: curious but enthusiastic, not committed but not hiding from it either.
But even in less obvious moments it is clear. The acoustic-over-muted beats Some People (“some people got nothing to hide/They left all their problems behind”) where the strings might easily have weighed down the low-key delivery but instead feel like they’re bolstering, kicks into a distorted and squelchy section a couple of minutes in that is a bolt of adventure.
Yeah I Care has echoes of Outkast in its buoyancy and its easy blend of pop and rock into an electronic fold, Never No heads inexorably to a grand gesture outpouring, teetering between Simple Minds circa New Gold Dream and post-Babys John Waite (and just staying on the right side of that awful chasm), and the album’s closing song, Message You At Midnight, moves from the suggestion of darkness to a kind of exultant need that brings to mind the quiet beauty of Blue Nile in a rare moment of confidence.
Even the close-quarters piano ballad, Believe Me, where he switches from natural to treated and back to natural voice, and where French horn hums beneath, feels less like a plea than a statement of truth.
So certainly, this is a record of coming out of a dark hole and feeling breeze on your face again. But …but yeah, there is laced through Run Fast Sleep Naked – and maybe the clue is in the title – a sense of that dark hole being still in shot, being near enough to Murphy for him to feel its phantom grip.
It is there in the murmuring mood of Novacaine And Coca Cola, in the subtext of nerves strained in Sunlight, the lyrics of discombobulation in Harry Takes Drugs On The Weekend, and most certainly in the cautious opening up of Hear It Now which begins the album in some ambiguity.
Murphy isn’t pretending he’s had a “with one bound he was free” escape, but the direction and momentum is clear enough. That’s a pretty decent restart, for him and us. And that’s enough for now.