By the time Shane Nicholson released Bad Machines, I’d become hooked on his voice – it has a soothing quality that means that even if I’m not listening to all the words he’s singing, I feel somewhat lulled into a nice, cosy state of being. Which is not to suggest that his lyrics are all hearts and flowers; they’re not.
The standout track on this album – for me, at least – is ‘The Broken Things’. It’s spare and a little creepy, but also reassuring. Our narrator may ‘like all the broken things’ but there’s also a sense that he likes them because he can fix them. When I saw Shane play at Notes Live in Sydney earlier this year, he said that he’d asked his wife, Kasey Chambers, to record a guide vocal for the harmony on the track, with the intention of turning it over to Sheryl Crow to sing. Except Sheryl – with whom he toured the US a few years ago – never answered his emails, so Kasey is who we hear on the record. These two have been singing together so well for so long now that it’s hard to imagine how Shane would have thought anyone else could have suited the song.
‘The Broken Things’ is atypical of the album, which sees Shane planting his boots firmly in the country camp. This is a natural evolution from 2008’s Familar Ghosts, although sometimes it seems there’s hardly a trace of the Shane Nicholson who created It’s a Movie in 2004. That’s good and fitting, though – this man is no musical slouch, and one can hardly expect him to keep doing the same thing over and over.
So Bad Machines is generally an upbeat, up-tempo country/roots collection of songs, with some lyrics that are kinda silly and others that display his hallmark ability to break the listener’s heart. I can’t say that it’s my favourite album of Shane’s, but I listen to it a lot anyway. I’ve realised that I’ll buy any CD that he releases, because every single one of his solo albums (and Rattlin’ Bones, for that matter) is fantastic – it’s just that some are more fantastic than others.
Shane Nicholson, Bad Machines (Essence/Liberation, 2011)
Also available on iTunes