Album Review: All The Queen’s Horses – The Dark Below & The Isle of Dogs

All The Queen’s Horses – The Dark Below & The Isle of Dogs

Folk | Alternative


It’s a busy time of year for new releases, a time when I’m pushing myself to cover as many albums as I can (and usually failing miserably). You let a record swirl around your head on repeat for a few days, do your best to shut out everything else, and by the end you generally have a pretty good measure of it and how it makes you feel. But some records don’t reveal their secrets that easily. Sometimes you need to come back to an album years later before it finally clicks; time enough for your tastes to grow and mature. With the most erudite lyricists you need time to unravel the deeper meanings, to understand the references and allegories, decipher every pointed metaphor and archaic turn of phrase. When lyricism veers into literature it’s not enough to just be older and wiser. The casual observers still only get a brief glimpse, and only those willing to put in the due study and attention will ever see the bigger picture. Likewise the most passionate of songwriters, those that weave their untempered feelings into every word, need the right moment to connect. An artist can so completely capture an emotion in song, articulate a feeling you thought inexpressible, and yet still the weight of it can just completely pass you by. But return again when that same fire is burning within you, approach it with a newfound understanding, and that same song can steal your breath away and haunt you down to your very bones. 

When Dylan won the Nobel Prize for literature a few years ago it sparked a discussion as to whether songwriting can ever be classed as literature, and for those still left with any doubt the debut album from All The Queen’s Horses will assuredly brush it away. Irish singer/songwriter Sean Murphy somehow finds a way to speak with a Shakespearean sense of authority and gravitas, to deconstruct established canon and build his own mythology atop it like Milton and Dante, to craft an atmosphere of dark gothic romanticism worthy of Poe. I could pour over each track for months and still have things left to discover. An absolute must for fans of Leonard Cohen and of Nick Cave’s recent output, The Dark Below & The Isle of Dogs finds beauty in desperation; influenced by the pandemic’s hanging air of gloom, and the isolation, self-doubt and loss of faith in humanity brought with it. Crafted chiefly around Sean’s gritty, world-weary vocals, adorned with mournful classical piano and soaring sorrowful cello arrangements, it teeters on the edge of plunging into darkness. It’s an album for and about those clinging to that last flickering candle flame that’s keeping the shadows at bay, that last shimmer of hope when the world is weighing you down and conspiring against you. 

It has it’s faults, with the throbbing electronics of ‘Fuck The Night’ feeling awfully out of place and the record as a whole losing steam in the last couple of tracks, but I wouldn’t hesitate to call it a good album. In fact I would go so far as to say that this album could be something truly great. The issue is the amount of investment needed to truly connect with it. I can barely breach the surface of this record in the time afforded to me, and that’s all I can base my review on. I can see myself coming back to this record years from now and hearing a masterpiece, but I cannot speak for my future self in the present, nor can I expect everyone that approaches The Dark Below & The Isle of Dogs to afford it the patience it warrants. All I can say with confidence is that even the shallowest of dives yields a rewarding experience, one unlike anything else I’ve heard this year.