Benedict fled his life in Rome, horrified by his fellow students’ pursuit of degenerate pleasure and their wilful disinterest in the truth. He gave up his inheritance, but there was also a woman involved, who he’d possibly loved too much. Whatever Benedict’s motivation for leaving the city, he soon after ran into a monk, Romanus of Subiaco, who suggested he become a hermit. Benedict spent three years living in a cave above a deep blue lake. He became a seriously chilled out dude.
The unusual outcome was that Benedict became a man of the people, and was requested to run a monastery. His strict beliefs on how to be humble and obedient were collected together as the Rule of Saint Benedict.
Elliott Murphy’s first song on his new EP, Intime, calls upon Saint Benedict for discipline, to find the way to make things stick. Murphy has been in rock and roll for over forty years, starting out with acclaimed debut Aquashow in 1973. He clearly has staying power, but “Benedict’s Blues” reveals that Murphy still has to use his own determination to keep going.
The song begins just a step back from Woody Allen’s precept that ninety per cent of success is showing up, by invoking the spirit of Benedict to will the singer out of bed: “what time are you getting up and getting up to do what/ that’s half of the game”. The lyrics further contain an existentialist dilemma for Murphy, who after all these years is in a firm position to consider whether a song can be more than just the same old same old, if music can really set you free.
Intime was written at the kitchen table with a solid body nylon string guitar, the quietest guitar Murphy owns, and inspired by a vacant window across the street whilst considering Baudelaire’s “Les Fenêtres”, in which a man looking out of an open window doesn’t see as much as the same man looking at a closed window. Perhaps then it’s better to have the hinge of the brain opening inward rather than outward. Introverts are underrated.
It’s maybe no wonder then that Intime has such a dreamy, imaginative tone. “Sweet Honky Tonk” is a kaleidoscope of dark images run together matched by energetic backing; black crows become emos with “nail polish on their toes”, and looking back produces a weirdly forward-looking vision – “I see a warehouse full of shiny brand new coffins/ well someday son this will all be yours”. Whilst such images are stark and unrelenting, they are not entirely produced from the self in a poetic vacuum; there are hints of the financial crisis, as Murphy declares “I saw a wave of gluttony/ maybe the worst since eighty-three”.
“Land of Nod” is an extended, floating trip towards sleep, perhaps an expression of ideas that hit just before heading to dreamland. The distinctive synthesizer adds much to the atmosphere as does Murphy’s vocal delivery, which is double-tracked with a deep bass growl. It’s spooky and regretful, with no answers to the difficult questions posed by the singer, possibly to himself.
Murphy has said that Intime is like nothing he’s ever put out before. This is partly true, in that there’s more of an experimental feel to the production (“Sweet Honky Tonk” in particular has some daring effects), and you could say Murphy has let us see more of his quirky side than previously. But what is not new is the quality of the song-writing. “The Land That Time Forgot” uses something like a hot-tub time machine in the verses to take us to different places in the material world, whilst the chorus justifies the motivation for doing so – because of something left unsaid, which in the linear world you can often do nothing about. It’s a clever idea – and the song capitalizes on it, especially when describing the common dilemma of whether to be alone or with some someone else: “But instead you said/ you just want to be alone/ well now that’s exactly what you are/ you’re sitting in the kitchen strumming your guitar/ well introspection baby/ is that your idea of a joke?”.
“Every Little Star” closes the EP and it’s a catchy, idiosyncratic song. Murphy has sung about destiny before (more specifically on his twelfth album, 12), but this time he seems more at peace with life. He may have dreamt of fortune and fame as a young man, but now he’s happy waking up to “fluff up his pillows and fluff up his head”. To know oneself is the beginning of wisdom, and perhaps it’s a case of Murphy fully realising that he’s a big dreamer. Benedict may have found himself through living in a cave, but Murphy chose music.
The EP Intime is available from www.elliottmurphy.com
Read more from Charles Pitter in Hardcore – Elliott Murphy, available from Amazon now.