The Savage Beauty of Stoney

Mark Stoney, aka Stoney, is a multi-instrumentalist songwriter whose escalating career has made waves, both in Britain and America. His first full length album, The Scene & The Unseen, gained column inches in major British newspapers and airplay on BBC Radio. Stoney has played at such iconic festivals as Glastonbury, Leeds/Reading and Austin’s SXSW and toured with big names such as the Arctic Monkeys, Athlete and Laura Marling. Some of his previous songs have even appeared in UK and US films and TV programmes. So does his latest release, More Than Animals (January 14th, 2014) live up to expectations? Thankfully, yes.

Stoney plays almost all instruments on More Than Animals and produces too. He has been likened to many artists and genres, but his style is not easily distilled. What shines through is an ear for a rollicking good rhythm, crisp vocals and some of the most expressive, inventive lyrics I’ve ever come across.

He certainly straddles the Atlantic, having originally come from a London suburb, moved to Sheffield, that hotbed of original talent, and finally relocated to Austin, Texas. Whatever he’s soaked up on the way, More Than Animals emerges as his original take.

Some songs have an epic, theatrical quality, with soaring choruses that, for me, rekindled 1980s sounds, as on Sweet Release and The Score, the latter a worthy nod to online casino Gary Numan.  There’s even a hint of musical theatre in terms of melody, albeit with a rock sensibility. But Stoney can be softly delicate too, on the slower, sparser acoustic tracks such as We Belonged, Albatross and Wanderlust. Bittersweet melancholy is part of his DNA.

Devil On My Back is a prime example of his talent for a driving rhythm, this one enhanced by dark lyrics narrating a spiral into despair. Also destined to bring out the beast in you is Round Here, a quiet bit of bluesy slide guitar kicking into hillbilly aggression. Cock of the Walk’s rhythm carries a rant against conforming to mediocrity. Stoney has been compared to David Bowie and The Kinks and that isn’t wide of the mark. However, House of Mirrors reminded me of Steve Marriott channelling his Artful Dodger persona.

Stoney delivers crisp, precise vocals, which is fortunate because his lyrics are so damned good. Often expressing the dark corners of his soul and love’s cruel twists, his arresting imagery is equally adept when loving or when aggressive. And he does express love so beautifully. Listen to Albatross and weep, but We Belonged, if you’ve ever lost someone, will bring you to your knees. A radio-friendly ballad with catchy melody and acoustic guitar, its accompanying video has childhood sweethearts, a wedding, a funeral and a tree motif. Just for my personal taste, I would have preferred the video to be less literal.

The title, More Than Animals refers to a line in Bedpost, about an encounter that shouldn’t have happened, wherein the question is posed, “will you even mark the notch into your bedpost?”, the conclusion being “we’re no more than animals”.

Despite its dark take on life, this is a surprisingly healing set of songs, with a melancholic truth that’s sometimes astonishing.