Music ReviewsRock

CD Review: True Believer by Michael Cullen


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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Anne Iredale
Anne is an experienced writer, published poet and proofreader from the UK. She is passionate about promoting new music whilst paying tribute to past greats. Her other passions are for films, books and art plus walking in the woods or on the beach.