SEEKER LOVER KEEPER
Wild Seeds (Liberation)
If Henry Handel Richardson had not already taken the name, the second Seeker Lover Keeper album could well have been given the title The Getting Of Wisdom.
Of course Henry was actually Ethel Richardson, a woman, a politically-conscious citizen (that is, a very active suffragette), a writer in a male dominated industry within a male dominated society, who often was considered the oddity rather than the exceptional when surrounded by less talented men.
Any resonance for the SLK trio of Sarah Blasko, Sally Seltmann and Holly Throsby? Check. Check. Check. And, check.
However, while The Getting Of Wisdom was about the coming of age of a girl beginning to understand how hearts, desire and society worked, the wisdom of Wild Seeds comes from the perspective of three writers who have snuck past 40, settled into relationships and multiple careers, become parents, and, not coincidentally, held their solo songwriter nerve to write collectively for the first time.
The kind of people who can say “I don’t follow where the wind blows, I’m on the ground, feet on the ground” and be believed; the types who could then tell you “Let it out, don’t be afraid/Of how you are, what you were”, or insist that “you know who you are, you’re a superstar”, and you’d not feel patronised.
The sort, in short, who know themselves well enough to – in two songs - talk of running away as a release, not an escape, done from the confidence of a return rather than the fear of an end. And then in Two Dreamers, one of the two LA sunshine, uptempo pop songs (incidentally, both sung by Seltmann) on the otherwise mid-tempo album, make escape a joint exercise too.
Many songs here operate on reflection, in the aftermath of knowledge and in the comfort of succour given freely, such as One Way Or Another, where Blasko might sound characteristically haunted but with the echoing chorus of Seltmann and Throsby she actually brings certainty to a lover. “We’ll go one way, one way or another … I know for certain that we can go on/Walking beside you, we’re lost and we’re found.”
In Not Only I, Throsby begins the song over casual acoustic guitar in isolation, explaining that “When I was a child I used to say/Only I love/Only I want”, a lament of all of us as teens or young adults who are certain no one has felt exactly this way before.
But by the time the rhythm section of Laurence Pike and David Symes is joined by Seltmann’s swelling Mellotron and voice, the security of the communal experience has expanded too with Throsby declaring “Knowing that we feel the same is a comfort to me/All the love, all the shame, all the questioning/I look around and I’m ready.”
If it’s “wisdom”, it doesn’t mean genial benevolence though. In More Women – which may or may not have anything to do with another stellar local songwriter who, according to an ex-partner, in a brilliant documentary a few years ago, told her he did not want to be confined to a single woman if he were to experience life and writing fully – Blasko isn’t for waiting or indulging.
“Wind in my hair and my bags are packed/I’m not looking back … I’ll go on without you,” she sings, and Throsby and Seltmann chip in with almost offhand dismissal that would hurt more than the words.
Close listening might suggest particular elements are attributable to one or other of the trio: the driftwood on a river melody of Dear Nighttime feels quintessential Throsby; the joyful lilt of Beautiful Mind has the buoyancy of Seltmann; the almost stately processional of Time To Myself arrives as a Blasko template, for example.
But that’s a fool’s errand in songs which reflect the shared spirit of the three writers, that sense of tapping into each other’s strengths so that the play and interplay of these voices - each comfortable in delicacy and vulnerability; each controlled in the strength of their emotional base – isn’t doing all the work.
The spectral near-dissonance of You’ve Got A Story, plays with both darkness and spots of light, echoing space and pinging machinery, like Laurie Anderson blending with Anohni, while the simultaneously spacious and insular Superstar imagines The Carpenters inhabiting Bon Iver, and Wild Seeds rises from a church pew into a surprisingly punchy Stax-style exercise.
Elsewhere, One Way Or Another opens as if it will become The Walker Brothers’ No Regrets, but glides into a semi-pastoral pop song, while More Women segues from tremulous mid-90s Bristol shades into the kind of humming soul that James Blake might try.
A better question than who did what, but an even harder one to answer, is why do two very good records by three excellent songwriters, each of whom has made at least a couple of superb solo albums, feel like a bit of a disappointment?
As with its self-titled predecessor, Wild Seeds is, track to track, quite excellent, and always – always – attractive to listen to. But again, it feels like an emotional deep dive is skirted because of a collective rather than individual spirit that means ceding ground, or holding back stark frankness.
It makes sense in a practical way, is understandable in a personal way, and as a reflection of the wisdom of three artists it doesn’t clutter messaging. But it does mean that brilliance feels within reach, but is not quite touched.
Unreasonably high expectations? Yes, probably. Unfair to have those expectations though? I don’t think so.
A version of this review was first published in The Guardian