Vic Allen - Some Place I'd Rather Be
During our review of Vic last single "Suitcase" which closes out this magnum opus, we did offer up the idea of a Vic Allen Collection having the potential to be better than many currently cluttering the UK charts - well with "Some Place I'd Rather Be" we have an amalgamation of Vic's releases over the last few years along with some new tracks including "Barcelona" which will be familiar to anyone who has seen Vic live and our assertion definitely holds true. In truth it could easily come with a companion DVD, for Vic perhaps more than any other UK Americana artist always has firm visual ideas of how her songs will be presented as well as how they will sound.
#TEAMw21 have followed Vic's career avidly since her debut at Buckle & Boots, we have witnessed her grow as both a performer and a songwriter - this collection in many ways is a culmination of those years of effort.
The title of the album "Some Place I'd Rather Be" alludes to one of the themes that is at the core of Vic's writing which is travel - her constant wanderlust, the need to see new places, meet new people and enjoy new experiences. The other recurring theme is that of break ups, although that is a far too blase a label to place on these songs - there is often a degree of self analysis or self awareness gleaned from each parting that makes these songs far superior to those normally given this label.
The opening track is "Enough" a rare Vic Allen co write with writer / producer Kaity Rae. At first it seems a deceptively simple track based around a repeated guitar line yet it gradually reveals itself to be far from that, The more times you listen the more you pick out the intricacies and attention to detail that are hidden in there, the little guitar flourishes, the echoey backing vocals that help build up the overall sound. Dealing with the quite simple premise of when do you say you are content, have enough and stopping pushing for more?
Vic acknowledges "I should be happy so happy cos I've got everything I need - it ain't enough for me"
but for her there will always be that realisation that "I've got more to give" and that she longs for the place
"where the grass is just a brighter green".
In many way this opener musically sets the scene for the whole record, listen out for the background harmonies - they will surface inventively throughout the record.
The rather fine "Picture Of Us" is built around the fairly simple premise of erasing all pictures of an ex after a break up, only to note there were actually none of them together. To a songwriter these little observations can be pure gold and so it proves for Vic.
Opening with an acoustic guitar and Vic saying
"I've already cried twice this morning It's only 8am",
We get a fairly straight rundown of what has passed to put Vic into this emotional state, where
"Hey can we talk? ended with me hanging up"
The chorus takes us through Vic's purge of all traces of the person -- as she
"Can't bear to see your face - if you're no longer mine".
In an age where everything seems to be photographed from sunsets to your latest meal, the initial thinking might have been that maybe he wasn't the one anyway however Vic offers a different theory.
"Guess that we were too caught up in the moment - to ever feel like we needed to capture anything forever" however that lack of an image makes life easier - "with no proof that it was real"
All but exploding through the speakers comes "Drive-Thru", when she wants to Vic can rock out with the best of them and there are more such examples in her back catalogue notably "Bird Of Prey". It opens to a crescendo of drums guitars and backing vocals from Vic herself telling us "I fell in love that night"
It's a song that was starting to feature in her live set pre pandemic, a tale of finding love in the unlikeliest of places, ie a McDonalds "Drive Thru". When played solo even with Vic's most expressive guitar playing, a lot seems to hang on the "I fell in love ..." line to make it believable however with a full band, the song just seems to fully capture the impetuousness of youth - of living for the moment where anything is possible!
The lyrics exude the whole spirit of impromptu decision making and Vic's delivery perfectly sells the feelings being experienced
"I didn't know you at all but you caught me with those eyes - you put your hand in mine"
The whole love at first sight experience seems to sharpen both the senses and emotions
"I never laughed so hard and watched the stars shine like they were brand new" the astronomical theme flowing through to the later line where Viv describes herself as a "Starry eyed girl" totally captured in the moment.
For " I Can" written immediately in the aftermath of a break up, Vic includes some of her most brutally honest writing especially when you see the context of the title in the lyrics. Production duties fell to songwriter extraordinaire Sue McMillan on this one and. the sound is also accordingly a little different - the most obvious comparison is a Fleetwood Mac "Rumours" vibe. It is amazingly uncluttered to listen to, there are some guitars, bass and banjo over a drum beat but remarkably little else apart from as ever those wondrous lead and backing vocals.
Lyrically we join Vic soon after the break up, lying on the bed seemingly unsure if she has done the right thing, yet knowing there is no turning back "the Oh My God I really done it feeling!" . There are a couple of rhyming short line sections that work really well before the chorus nails the song down with it's cutting final line
"I wish I was crying that I just can't live without you - but the truth is I can".
It's not said with bitterness or in anger and if there is any regret, it is that they cannot still be friends, Vic knows there is no return and kills the very thought of that stone dead with the "but we can't" line.
Musically there is much to admire, just listen to that banjo line picking its way through the track or those little electric guitar flourishes that are sparingly used but are incredibly effective. the song is beautifully constructed, just notice the way the chorus is subtly different on its final outing, the backing vocals on the bridge or indeed the way the song suddenly falls away at the end, all things that go to make it memorable. Vic's vocals perfectly capture the mood of the lyrics, hitting the right note between feeling sorry you've hurt someone yet knowing you've done the right thing.
For whatever reason on its release "Confetti" had a very low profile - Vic choosing to release it to no great fanfare and yet it shows a completely different side to her. This is again considered songwriting with a soundscape mainly consisting of a just Vic at a a piano as she lays down a heartbreaking honest vocal.
It's a liason that ends with the words
""I'll leave in the morning
So please don't fall in love"
Always easier said than done and made all the worse when you know something good is slipping through your fingers.
"When I told you I was fine boy I was lying!
Cos I don't think I've felt this way before"
As ever there are small songwriter touches that elevate this song, just look at how Vic leads the listener back to the chorus each time slightly differently, and then how the choruses are delivered on each occasion. With the latter choruses all but a duet, with a male voice in the background - The piano may well provide a new outlet for Vic's undoubted talents.
A live favourite finally finding a home is "Barcelona" - here given a full band treatment and a musically explosive chorus. This almost manages to tie the albums two key themes in one song - it's a holiday romance of sorts with someone from the Catalan capital. yet Vic knows the long distance relationship and all it entails will never work.
"We were both 3000 miles away from home when we first met
We had two more days to figure it all out - till you left
We both knew that we were out of time"
One again there is a brutally honest side to Vics's writing
"Please don't wait cos I ain't gonna come"
The apogee of Vic's dalliance with electronica came with "Ghost Town", not the classic Special AKA's hit single!! It saw Vic choosing to push her sonic palate into a new dimension, with a soundscape formed from backwards instrumentation which gives the tune a slightly disconcerting feel at first.
Scratch the surface though and there is an acoustic guitar and some lyrics outlining the feeling of numbness and loneliness after a break up with real raw emotions,
"I never felt so lonely in a crowded room", that feeling of being out in the city but alone
"drowning in neon colour, all I see is gray" is a wonderfully powerful description
The chorus does have the ubiquitous click track, through it that just about stays out of the way enough not to spoil things. The second verse sees a move to a more soulful dance orientated style of delivery and backing while at the same time there seems to be a faint banjo playing in the background. The sonic experimentation then continues with some interesting sounds and backing vocals while the lyrics maintain a ghostly theme,
"Emptiness is haunting me" and "Without you it's just a Ghost Town".
On its release we hailed "Healing" as Vic's finest hour and it still stands up magnificently although it may have been surpassed by later material.
Lyrically a composite of personal feelings mixed with the witnessing of the affect of a break up on a friend, the writing comes across as vividly real and compelling.
"I don't want to be a hopeless type -
Yeah i know that this is all just life
No-one ever said that it was easy
But it's been a really long hard year -
Sick of drowning in my own damn tears
Nothing I can even try to believe in"
The first chorus of the song is perfectly set up, for after the feelings of depression comes the slowly delivered line spread over 6 syllables each one almost dripping off the tongue that indicate a transformation is coming
"But to-day some-thing changed"
When it comes, the chorus of "Healing" is a delight of melody, and that feeling of relief that comes from once again being able to see things in a positive light is palpable.
"I noticed the sun, first time in months, seems like it's actually shining
I made it home, and danced all alone, cos I can't believe I'm not crying"
It all leads to the inescapable conclusion "I think I'm healing".
The second verse sees the relationship being put into perspective
"He was never meant for me" while acknowledging that she'll never forget him and that she has learnt a valuable life lesson.
The bridge provides further explanation of just how all encompassing those feelings of loss can be
All of the time I couldn't see - it wasn't right I wasn't me I'm done, silence, breakdowns and crying
I want to go back to the start be who I was I think that I'm on my way"
The final chorus is delivered differently, initially over a tinkling piano, it simply enhances how good the chorus is and puts the spotlight on Vic's singing.
The other waif and stray that finally has a home is "Borrowed Time" -it finds Vic in a highly descriptive mood as she sings out over a gently strummed acoustic guitar.
"The sky was on fire that night - we sat and watched the lights - dancing on the water
Sand slipping through our hands the rhythm of your heart, steady as the waves"
The chorus when it comes is possibly Vic's most full blown band sound yet - it is almost custom made for an arena or a Royal Albert Hall and needs something special lyrically to accompany it and Vic duly delivers.
"I don't want to get left behind when you wake up - one day you'll realise
That the world keeps spinning without me by your side
I don't want to be a stepping stone, Know it ain't forever it's just my turn
Cos I can almost feel my future in those eyes
With you I want life not just borrowed time"
The course of true love never does run smoothly and it is no different here
"Time passed and things got hard - waking up apart - walking different cities
Between the distance and the fighting- we had days when we were flying
Figuring out ain't ever easy"
The final chorus is a total rewrite of what has gone before, there's a change in tone and more than a hint of desperation
"I don't want to get left behind - when you wake up one day and change your mind
Cos I can't breathe without you by my side
I don't want to be a bridge you burned, or a cold hard lesson you had to learn
Cos I can see a whole damn future when you smile
With you I want life not just borrowed time"
The song closes on the pleading request "Say you need me"
There is a lot of drama wrapped up in this song as the protagonist in this song seems to slowly unwind like the relationship. The tenderness of the first verse, that fleeting moment, is the only truly happy part of the song. From there it seems everything starts unravelling and Viv says volumes by not saying anything.
"Suitcase" is in many way the ideal closer to the album, it is surely Vic's finest hour to date and totally sums her up - bag packed waiting for the next destination, the next adventure!
"Suitcase" starts with a bright uptempo acoustic guitar and Vic thinking of being elsewhere
"If I let my eyes lose focus
I can pretend this ain't my town
Dirty windows, rushing past grey sky
Turning into New York City crowds
Wish that I was there right now"
As the song develops, so does the sound palette, a piano chord or two, some atmospherics and backing vocals that swirl around elusively staying out of reach but adding to the overall effect.
As we've discussed at length travel is everything to Vic, her past present and future all rolled into one
"Sometimes I catch myself thinking about a place I left behind"
The simple joys to be had from the wonder of travel, places, people and experiences that free us from the hum drum day to day existence, that can be recalled and relived and savoured.
"A perfect golden time - replaying in my mind"
The chorus when it arrives is Vic vocally at her most confident, the passion in what she is singing really coming through
"Wish I could be anywhere, anywhere but here
I'd be just fine if I could just disappear
I'm restless when my worlds stuck in the same place
I think my heart lives in a suitcase"
Percussion joins the song giving it even more urgency, which is matched by Vic's escalating singing. We've mentioned earlier about the tiniest of sonic details, and there is a lovely little piano break buried deep in the mix. If it wasn't there we may not even have noticed it was missing and yet like an artist at the easel who has just added a small daub of colour, it being there somehow makes the song even more perfect.
A finale of multiple backing vocals finishes off what could well be Vic's best release to date
The suitcase may be packed and with "Some Place I'd Rather Be" collecting these songs together may be the end of one chapter of Vic's career but don't be afraid there is so much more to come. We've heard live versions of songs that could easily have nestled among this collection that have yet to see the light of day. Vic is a prodigious talent, mainly writing on her own, who has an exceptionally high quality threshold that must be met before she releases anything. With that complete understanding of how her songs will look and sound - she deserves every success that should surely be coming her way.
"Some Place I'd Rather Be" is available now