In 2013, MONEY released their debut album The Shadow Of Heaven, following only a handful of concerts that felt more like communions in out-of-the-way venues, advertised only by word-of-mouth. The record sounded similarly crafted – all haunted melody and atmosphere, invested with an unusually ambitious and uncompromising lyrical zeal. This was a band that invested as much in what they meant as how they sounded.
Two years on, the new MONEY album, Suicide Songs, takes you deeper into their sound and vision. It feels more advanced and yet simpler, more perfected and yet more open. It is, by turns, a tender, barren, cavernous, smouldering, despairing and inspirational piece of work. It’s a long day’s journey into night, but it pays huge dividends when you arrive, drawing you in and casting a spell that won’t let go. Yet it very nearly didn’t get made.
Before The Shadow of Heaven was even conceived, MONEY had been quietly honing their art in Manchester, where the three members (Jamie Lee, Billy Byron and Charlie Cocksedge) met whilst studying. Only two singles had been released (‘Who’s Going to Love You Now’ on Manchester independent Sways, and ‘So Long (God is Dead)’ on French independent Almost Musique) before Bella Union tracked them down.
The label gave the band the chance to make an album that would mirror their world much better than if they just recorded it using their own basic resources. The self-produced The Shadow Of Heaven was a stunning statement of intent that was followed by some transcendent shows in less unusual venues, but something was nagging. Retrospectively, they could hear what felt like limitations, things that weren’t true to their vision of what MONEY could be. “For me,” Jamie says, “The Shadow Of Heaven had a gloss to it, which didn’t feel right. And I wasn’t focused enough. This time, I wanted more truth, for it to sound more organic, and natural.”
To this end, Jamie moved back to South London, with, “the objective of becoming the best writer I could be, writing poetry as well as songs that were connected as kin.” Meanwhile, Billy and Charlie continued to write and produce music in Manchester.
Reunited in Manchester, Jamie recalls drunkenness, and mental ill-health, lost in self-doubt, of “internal disputes about the music’s direction… songs but no palpable direction. The outlook was fairly bleak. But we stuck together.” That, Jamie acknowledges, was partly down to enlisting outside help; first a new manager Keith Wozencroft, formerly of Parlophone/EMI, and then producer Charlie Andrew, who got MONEY to relocate back to South London. After three months in a Brixton studio, all the strife was suddenly worth it as MONEY emerged with the magnificent Suicide Songs.
The album finds the band gelling as never before, framing Jamie’s poetic vision with an intuitive grasp of the album’s dignified and despairing themes. There are strings and brass, gospel-style backing vocals, and the (Indian stringed) dilruba on the opening ‘I Am The Lord’. This collectively adds more divine dimensions to the band’s sound, embellishments that MONEY didn’t have the confidence to try out on their debut.
Out of a renewed, richer palate of sound, a sense of greater self-belief has emerged. But as its title suggests, Suicide Songs doesn’t shirk from the emotional truths that birthed it. “I wanted the album to sound like it was ‘coming from death’ which is where these songs emerged,” Jamie explains. “The record is morbid and bleak, and never resolves itself. The only real kind of triumphant realisation is being able to express the morbidity of the situation I found myself in.”
In Jamie’s mind, the album’s first two tracks, ‘I Am The Lord’ and ‘I’m Not Here’, represent, “the irreverent stages of not being mentally present or healthy, of chaos and delusion.” This is followed by, “a more considered and conscious attitude as the record goes on, before it ends again with irreverence, unconcerned with engaging with any positive attitude with life.”
There is a fine line between hopelessness and positivity on this record. From the elegiac, almost tortured ‘A Cocaine Christmas and an Alcoholic’s New Year’, to the sense of hope in the uplifting ‘I’ll Be The Night’ (“When I was a child I made a deal against the sun / that if it died out that I would carry on”). Or the bittersweet ‘Hopeless World’ (“Do you dare to come down to my hopeless world / where I make a strange light uncertain and absurd”), to the brash, almost relentless ‘I’m Not Here’ (“People are strange, I can tell they’re deranged / I’d rather be a tramp on the street, because I’m only here once I’ve disappeared”).
At times, the cumulative effect of the arrangements, melody and rousing vocal sounds more uplifting than the words suggest, as on ‘All My Life’ and ‘Night Came’, the album’s longest and most labyrinthian dissection of self-doubt.
But back to that album title… The band is well aware of the potency of two words such as Suicide Songs. “It seemed to make sense for the period, since I was dabbling with an unworldly attitude toward life, though that’s changed now,” Jamie vouches. “But we don’t want it to come across just in a negative way. We don’t want to glorify mental illness either. ”
“Above all else, I’m just trying to project and portray a poetic truth. Suicide is about anonymity, to the point where you don’t exist, which I definitely feel in my songwriting and as a person. But rather than writing myself out of anonymity, I want to remain there, in this record at least. It’s recognising a kind of sacrificial nature, in making artistic choices. By rummaging around in your feelings and trying to make sense of life, to the detriment of your health, there might be some poetic value to what you have created.”