Love Fame Tragedy

Love Fame Tragedy

Event Time Mon 13th May at 7:00pm-Mon 13th May at 11:00pm
Event Location Gorilla, Manchester
Gorilla
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Love Fame Tragedy

The course of true love, fame nor tragedy ever did run smooth. When Matthew “Murph” Murphy – singer and songwriter of alt-pop phenomenon The Wombats – took time away from the band in 2019 to piece together a collaborative solo project named Love Fame Tragedy alongside such alt-rock luminaries as Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago and Alt-J’s Gus Unger-Hamilton, Covid had other ideas. With most tracks released as a series of singles and EPs, a debut album Wherever I Go, I Want to Leave emerged in 2020 to critical and commercial success, hitting 30 million streams. But plans for star-studded, Gorillaz-style live extravaganzas in London and New York were scuppered.

“I'm glad that I got some touring in and I'm happy with how it was received,” Murph says, but the experience left him feeling a little short-changed. “I felt like I'd been done over by the pandemic a little bit and wanted to try and make something better.”

Hence, as soon as The Wombats completed touring for 2022’s fifth album – and first UK Number One - Fix Yourself, Not the World, Murph immediately threw himself back into his more personal and revealing solo project with much psychological turmoil to expunge. Even for a writer beloved by his fans for being so frank and open about his romantic failings and issues with drugs and depression, the songs he found himself writing lay claim to being his most personal yet, documenting one of the most difficult years of his life.

“My touring and work schedule and my drinking got completely out of control, and it fucked me up basically,” he confesses, now over a year into sobriety after hitting rock bottom and realising he was close to losing everything he cared about. “To be honest, I've known for years now that my relationship with things that are bad for me is not healthy,” he admits. “I always thought, ‘you should stop at some point’. The album was written in the time where I was on this crazy descent.”

Entitled Life is a Killer, and peppered with real-life voice messages from his wife Akemi Topel airing her concerns about being cast as “the villain of the album once again” and telling him “we have to stay together because everyone else is falling apart”, the second LFT album traces Murph’s downfall in dazzling, modernist pop snapshots. The breezy title track (“my attempt at ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’”) and “If You Don’t” - “early songs, before it started getting legitimately crazy” – find him teetering on the edge, embracing the volatility of life and love. The latter, a gorgeously grainy ballad, concerns a train journey from London to Edinburgh with his wife during a Wombats tour. “We were on a bit of a boozy rollercoaster that day,” he says. “It felt like we went through every single emotion during that train ride. The amazing parts of love and life and then the more difficult ones.”

Other songs capture a psyche in self-destructive freefall. “Eat Fuck Sleep Forever” finds Murph berating himself for needlessly overcomplicating his life. “Maybe I Should”, a Twenties pop evolution of Magical Mystery Tour era Beatledelica, gives an example: his occasional inability to embrace and appreciate positivity. And he describes the mental chaos of “My Head is a Hurricane” – with its confessions that “my head’s in a hurricane most of the time” and “I can fuel my ego, spark some rage” - simply as “a prang in song form”.

The effects of his descent are laid bare, albeit in semi-fictional style. “Don’t You Want to Sleep with Someone Normal” – a glistening sonic Dear John wherein John himself is suggesting a split might be the most sensible option – fictionalises “just how ridiculous things got”. Amid its tales of alcohol blackouts and erratic behaviour, for example, the lyrics suggest that Murph found himself in a kung-fu fight at a wedding. “That's not a true story - I’m airing out embarrassing stuff that I've done in the last four years but making up new ones to replace what actually happened.” Meanwhile, the disco-rave “Slipping Away” concerns self-inflicted relationship decay: “I can’t tell anymore if you want me or not,” he sings, “and I can’t tell anymore whether I give a fuck”. “No one was slipping away, I was kind of pushing them away,” Murph explains. “It felt like something had to give, something was about to break. Something had to change or something dramatic was going to happen.”

That dramatic breaking point is here too, in the shape of sci-fi electro-rock anthem “Tangerine Milkshake” which Murph describes as “lyrically the most accurate as to what was happening”. Set “somewhere in Soho, blinded by the snow”, it acts as an open Whatsapp to his wife from the eye of a lost weekend: “you drink your tangerine milkshake, I’ll take my chances on the town, I’ll see you Monday maybe, when I’m feeling twelve feet underground”.

The album’s making mirrored its turbulent subject matter: “The recording process went full Chinese Democracy for quite a long time,” says Murph. Considering the songs too personal to suit the same sort of supergroup collaborations seen on the LFT debut, and wanting the record to sound “a bit weirder”, Murph began recording with Jacknife Lee (U2, REM, The Killers) at the producer’s Topanga Canyon studio, but “things started getting in the way, chunks of recording time were cancelled, and then it just got pretty messy”. Around five songs were completed before it was agreed that they’d taken the record as far as they could together and Murph needed to finish it with a different producer.

With just weeks spare to wrap the record up, Murph turned to long-time Wombats producer Mark Crew (Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, Lovejoy, Taylor Swift, Bastille), who flew out to Kingsize Soundlabs studios in Eagle Rock near Murph’s home in Los Angeles to finish the album. The end result is a remarkably coherent, contemporary and sonically bright-side album wrapping Murph’s characteristically infectious melodies and brutal self-laceration in gleaming shades of electropop, future rock, EDM and alt-disco; an album Murph calls “straight to the bone” which also cuts straight to the heart, head and feet. If life for Murph is all killer, it’s also bereft of filler.


Venue

Gorilla
54-56 Whitworth St, Manchester M1 5WW, UK