Influenced by the likes of Nick Cave, Tom Waites and Leonard Cohen, this Aussie singer-songwriter looks kinda world-weary. If his lyrics are anything to go by, love has not been kind to Michael Cullen. Regrets are at the root of many songs, but artists tend to self-mythologise, especially under the weight of such heroes as the above mentioned. “True Believer” (released 1st October, 2014) delivers Cullen’s baritone soul-baring with aplomb and with sympathetic production. Long-time collaborator, Tim Powles (The Church) co-produced and was also one of the contributing musicians. “True Believer” is the follow-up album to Cullen’s debut, “Love Transmitter”, which got a thumbs-up from critics.
This is more than singer-songwriter angst, with various musical styles complementing both the country-tinged barren landscapes and the urban Gothic tales. Curiously, the album cover looks like an image from a medieval tapestry, as if Cullen is on some kind of quest. Naming his record, “True Believer” is a bold statement. Given his bleak poetic lyrics, it is unclear what it is he believes in. Women leave; women disappoint; women treat him cruelly.
“Black Dog” looks through a glass darkly in best Nick Cave tradition, with wonderfully moody vocal, twangy guitar and epic lyrics – “you tore out my heart with no regrets”. In “Believer”, with swelling keyboards, Cullen declares, “I loved the wrong woman”. “Nothing Special” is catchy with an uncharacteristic sing-along chorus.
Evocative titles abound, such as “Black Coffee and Cigarettes”, a tale of another love gone wrong, and “Broken Horses”, the up-tempo final track reverberating with more twangy guitar – “we stand like broken horses waiting to be shod”.
Songs that remind you of someone else don’t have to be a bad thing. And Cullen has such good taste. He appreciates the artistry of a melancholy narrative and biting observations. Recriminations fly in “Damaged” – “you’re bitter all the way through” – a languid meander through Leonard Cohen’s oeuvre. A Bob Dylan-esque delivery and jangly guitar grace “I Never Knew”.
If I were Quentin Tarantino or David Lynch, I would hire Michael Cullen for a soundtrack. “True Believer” is for rainy afternoons, ghost towns and lonely motels or whatever personal daydream accompanies the sound of your own heart breaking.
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