MONEY - The Shadow Of Heaven

It throws down the gauntlet for what a truly organic and emotive album should be.

Label: Bella Union

Rating: 9

Manchester’s MONEY may have already established themselves as laureates of the unconventionally enthralling live performance – eccentric but loveable frontman Jamie Lee is well-renowned for his outlandish monologues and unabashed smooching of audience members – but capturing the energy and passion of a live performance on record is easier said than done. Luckily, MONEY’s hotly-anticipated debut throws down the gauntlet for what a truly organic and emotive album should be.

‘The Shadow Of Heaven’ tells of finding meaning in moments of total despair, of discovering that you’re alone in the world and wholly embracing it. Lee describes the album as a ‘hell-descent’ of sorts; like delving into the underworld, discovering a grand human truth, and returning to the surface with your vision of it. Such an approach to an album is audacious in itself, but the manner in which they’ve gone about it makes it all the more spectacular.

Confessional yet cryptic, Lee delivers his lyrics with an honesty that’s captivating. Every shaky, croaky wobble of the voice has been left for all to hear. As he strains to sing “every girl I’ve ever loved, closed their eyes” during ‘Goodnight London’, the intensity and frailty of his voice can be caught all at once. It’s a beautiful thing. There’s no desire to hide his clear passion underneath autotuned production. Because that would demean everything this album is about. Human weakness. Human doubts. Human mistakes.

The cavernous reverb of opener ‘So Long’, along with Lee’s (at times) angelic voice, awaken memories of church halls and cathedrals, perhaps nodding to the heavy religious themes contained throughout the album. ‘The Cruelty Of Godliness’ and title-track ‘Shadow of Heaven’ in particular showcase Lee’s voice at its most choirboy, but equally call religion into question, proclaiming “the cruelty of godliness within us, is his loneliness”. It’s these types of juxtaposition that provide some of the album’s most spectacular moments.

Backed by heavily layered, single-note guitar lines, hazy textures and washy drums, Lee’s vocals and lyrics are rightly left front and centre. The music provides a beautifully delicate backdrop, which can be heard at its finest on the majestic ‘Bluebell Fields’ and ‘Letters To Yesterday’. ‘Goodnight London’ and ‘Black’ show Lee at his most candid, just his voice and a piano allowing us a glimpse into his poetic, romantic view of the darker sides of city life.

If there is one fault, it may be that, at times, the production and backing is a little too restrained. There are moments during ‘Who’s Going To Love You Now’ and ‘Cold Water’ where it feels like the band needs to be fully let loose, but never quite reach the huge, impactful highs they should.

Which is a bit of a shame, but not enough to put any sort of damper on what is a near-masterpiece of a debut. It really is a thing of beauty, and gets better with every listen; one of the surest signs of something that will ultimately be deemed timeless. Just as Lee’s full-frontal photo had nothing to hide as it adorned MONEY’s debut single, ‘The Shadow Of Heaven’ cannot help but bare all, and that’s what’s truly special about it.