"Polarised" by Dean MacDonald

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"Polarised" by Dean MacDonald

Review

The new Dean MacDonald single "Polarised" comes out as a "Bank Holiday release" (which is a bit unusual in itself) and as always is a classy piece of work: from the writing to the performance to Matt Waddell's production at 14 Records.

I noted yesterday how Keith Fabrique's songwriting is under-appreciated and in many ways I think Dean's is too. Both create in that very crafted classic style, drawing on the history of the music they love & know so well & can offer object lessons to aspiring writers in how to develop their talents.

One such obviously is to show no fear in using fresh vocabulary & thus swerving cliches from the title onwards. This, as previous reviews have stated, is in fact a Dean hallmark. He rather likes deeper ideas (check out virtually his entire body of work) and respects his audience enough not to talk down to them.

That extends to the lyrics in depth with no recourse to forced rhyming nor stultifying repetition.

While Keith's many other activities possibly distract mass audiences from his writing, in Dean's case the equivalent factor is probably that having spent more than two decades shaping The Session into such a well loved & effective live unit, people concentrate on the passion of what they do on stage at the expense of minute examination of the lyrics. Which is their loss I suppose. Dean writes stuff to sound good but also make one think.

That said, his much more recent solo career aims along similar yet distinct lines. This has given him the opportunity not only to dive as deep as he wants to into philosophical matters but crucially to get a lot more personal (after all, he is not the only singer in The Session and there is a limit as to how far you can go in expressing internal feelings when someone else will be the conduit for your words).

At the same time, and this may be even more noticeable to listeners, stepping out of the group context for a bit enables him to experiment with different arrangements which might involve instruments members do not play or stripped back so that if attempted by them, some would not have anything to do live.

On this particular occasion, the standout moment is the inclusion of a "mando guitar" (part mandolin) crafted by renowned Coventry luthier Rob Armstrong. I've certainly never reviewed a track using one before & it's been a long time since I last name checked Rob, so thanks Dean for giving me the chances.

As with all the best writing, Dean starts with the specific (in this case his brother in New York City) and broadens its scope out to offer everyone a chance to identify with feelings of reflection, memory, casual encounters evoking recollections of old friends etc. That these meetings might include false recognitions just adds to the profundity of what Dean is writing about.

What is however central to the song is definitely NOT what the title says (clever): Dean identifies links, despite distances of time & intervening oceans and values commonality and shared experiences over forces driving people apart or polarising them.

Unsurprisingly, the arrangement tends to the evocation & remembrance of things passed in a timeless sort of style: lighter of touch than Session ones perhaps. I liked how, despite deploying such an unusual instrument, Dean & Matt have not foregrounded it as a gimmick: in fact it took my a few plays to be confident that I could even identify it in the mix. Its part seems to be to help emphasise that sense of the past and personal reflection: but pretty subtly. You go away (I hope) remembering the words rather than thinking "what was that funny sound?".

I'd like to think that Dean's already very well received solo career is directing attention to his writing (the productions all seem aimed in that way) and while I'm sure people will enjoy "Polarised" for its sound, hopefully most will pause for thought and realise that he's not just got something interesting to say, but that he'd like to communicate it to you.

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