Phil Matthews (The Village) – Carnival of Fools (Review)

Phil Matthews aka The Village released his Carnival of Fools album back in 2017. With elements of traditional folk music and americana, Phil has built up a fan base around the Midlands. With influences from The Beatles to the Beach Boys, The Village’s music is known to be a magical place for outsiders and oddballs. The album features tracks, “The Secret Garden” which he wrote in 1983. 35 years later and it was Number 1 in the N1M British Folk Rock Chart. Success isn’t necessarily selling a million copies of your music, it can be the little, yet effective things too. Phil records everything himself in the studio, but live he sometimes plays with Mr Hugh. 

The album is kicked off with a track called “Voodoo Skull.” Instantly I feel this track is heavily influenced by the 1960’s hippie moment. The song is drowning in chorus effects and upbeat guitar parts. The percussion is fairly simple and isn’t quite mixed perfectly in the production, but it definitely give the track a more raw sound. “Voodoo” is related to Africa Religion, and I can definitely hear an African influence from the percussion beat and chromatic guitar parts that goes down on the last line of each verse and chorus. Having a Voodoo Skull could mean that he has a spiritual mind, but skulls are usually best described with life and death, so it’s probably more about that. The song overall sounds retro and vintage.

A place where nothing happens is exactly what “Nothing Happens Here” is about. The tambourine in the chorus isn’t quite mixed right into the production, and it seems much louder than the vocals which is quite off-putting. The vocals sound similar to an effect that was used on some of The Beatles songs. You can definitely hear Phil’s influenced with this song with his vocals sounding very similar to John Lennon. The song deals with regret and loss, but the lyric, “we learn as we grow old” tells us that time is a healer and with time, we recover eventually.

The guitar soloing on Princess of the May seems a bit forced and too in your face, I feel it could have worked a lot better if it was more loose. It’s another nostalgic song, that longs for the good times again. “Look at photographs, remembering, sadly smiles” is a really emotional lyric, but the emotion doesn’t really pour through as well as I’d have hoped with this emotional song of wishing to be young again. I really do like the lyrics though and think there’s some lovely moments shone through this song to make it warming.

“Muses” tells a little story about John Lennon’s “Lucy” known for being “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” There’s also references in this song to Gone with the Wind and Cider with Rosie. A great song lyrically and it’s put together really nicely. The mix sounds unfinished, but I think that’s the personal sound that Phil wanted for his album, which is completely a fair choice. As we all know, everyone’s entitled to their own personal views and opinion. The clever lyrics of this track makes the song feel that the person that Phil’s singing about is angelic, and a wonderful person that he admires.

Next is “Always on My Mind” which has been featured on the folk charts and a well deserved track too. I’m getting vibes off the instruments that sound similar to when Lynyrd Skynyrd used to chill out with their acoustic guitars. The song is slightly more pop orientated through the lyrics than the other songs, which makes it more of a popular song in Phil’s discography overall. The song is in a minor key with powerful, love lyrics on top, which is always a pleasure with any audience. “Any my aching heart I must keep in the dark, And never let you know I care” deals with not wanting to show affection, but no matter what, this person is always on his mind.

“Last Train Home” is the only instrumental track on the album, and it’s a strong folk ballad. Getting a title for an instrumental song can be difficult because sometimes artists just get the music all down, but they’re not really sure what the inspiration behind it was. This song isn’t perfect as there’s some timing issues here and there, but the imperfections really make the song work so well. The subject behind this track is waiting on a platform, waiting for the last train home. Going home after a long day is always bliss, so I think that’s what Phil wanted his song to emulate. It’s a happy journey to a happy destination. There’s quite a few instruments on this, and they’re all playing similar things which sounds slightly messy at times. This could empathise the thoughts you get on your last train home. The song ends with a blow of a whistle to indicate, perhaps, we’re home.

Simplicity is all you need sometimes and that’s certainly what we get with “Seeking Clues.” It starts with what sounds like a banging on the door, before guitar is entered with a melodic riff. This is another track that feels a bit forced and doesn’t flow as nice and I would have liked. I’ve noticed Phil’s songs are similar structures of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, etc. The track features a mini guitar solo which sounds very similar to the melodic riff that is in too. Simple chord, simple music, simple song.

Phil definitely has his own style and doesn’t really go out of the specific folk genre. You can hear he’s influenced by classic pop music too. The organ in the next track is situated in the background, and it gives a fresh bright sound to the thumping that is “For Am I So Old (And I Have Seen the Sky.) The guitar follows the vocal line towards the end of the song which is a bit generic but it does work quite well.

Most of Phil’s songs features the title in the song, but “The Secret Garden” doesn’t. We instantly know what the Secret Garden feels like. A place where you can go to when you feel lonely. It’s a very short, but sweet song that’s one of the catchiest tracks on the album. The mix is produced a lot better than some of the other tracks on the album making it have a bigger, fresh sound to it, but still creating the 1960’s nostalgic essence.

The last track on the album is also the title track; “Carnival of Fools.” It’s upbeat and deals with people who don’t believe in evolution and that the world is flat as the lyric “Don’t you think that the world is flat? Maybe they never told you that, They’ll promise evolution does not exist, Carnival of fools, flick of the wrist” indicates. The flick of the wrist could simply mean that he’s shooing the people away because he thinks they’re ridiculous. This song seems more political than some other with the chorus being “cats and dogs don’t create their own gods, yet man’s the only one to start a war.”  It’s simple but effect drum beat is easy to clap along too. I can only guess that this is one of Phil’s best tracks in all of his discography that he plays lives, because it can really get an audience involved.

Overall, I like how the album is nostalgic and gives me visions of what the 1960’s was like. I always thought I was born in the wrong era, I’m glad I wasn’t as I can hear all the music that’s been released. Lovely work from Phil and he’s definitely gained a fan through me.

Favourite Tracks: Voodoo Skull, Nothing Happens Here, Muses, The Secret Garden, Carnival of Fools
Score: 6/10

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