erasing clouds

James Varda, Hunger

reviewed by dave heaton

”Just a Beginning”, the first song on James Varda’s album Hunger is an immediately riveting, stark song that on first listen I was sure was some long-lost pop-rock classic that I hadn’t heard before. And I was partly right -- Hunger was originally released in 1988, the debut album of a young musician who brought his guitar to London and started playing around town. A musician who would not release another album for 15 years.

”Just a Beginning” is riveting for its starkness, and the way the singer sounds thoughtful and hopeful despite the heartbreak of the song he’s singing. “Say we’ll always be lonely / it’s just the way of the world,” he sings, while strumming a lone guitar, and later playing some sweet and lonely harmonica. In a way it’s the most hopeful song on the album, though its resolution is ambiguous. The “beginning” he sings about is a rejection of modern society in a way, but not as harsh a one as nearly every other song on the album.

The portrait of London, or the world by relation, on Hunger is not a becoming one. The world has gone mad, war its manifestation. Hunger’s power comes from Varda not ranting, not taking a polemical or political angle. His anger seems more existential than that, his targets deeper. “I’m getting off this train,” he sings about leaving his country, but it isn’t clear that another country will be any better. The final lyric on the album, during the stormy “Black on Black”, is “the black sky about to detonate.”

It’s a bleak work, then, but also a thrilling one. The album’s spontaneous recording process, noted by Varda in the liner notes, is no doubt part of what makes the album feel like a rush of passion, an outburst of anxiety captured in passing, like a Polaroid. A snapshot of the impending apocalypse, perhaps, but we’ll still here, as is Varda, and in the album’s more hopeful moments it seems aware of that future as well.


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