The front cover of Mick Flannery’s fifth album – ominously entitled “I Own You” – invites a certain amount of contemplation. Previous releases have been packaged with fairly innocent and benign images of the singer which do not aspire to any higher meaning. The image at the centre of “I Own You”, however, is far from innocuous. The menacing image of a young child wielding a golf club and wearing a skeletal animal mask is a symbolic representation of the singer’s disenchantment with a world rife with injustice.
Opening track I Own You captures these feelings best by narrating a story of the poor man breaking into the rich man’s house. A menacing anger simmers throughout the opening verses while the choruses erupt in unabashed resentment. The intensity of the track peaks during the middle of the song where the instruments settle and the rich man grows paranoid: “Thought you heard something on the way home, was that a rustle, was that my belly rumblin’?/ later on you think you see a shadow by your front porch, maybe not though, then a tap tap tap at the window…”
Greater focus is placed on the rhythm section to build tension and sustain the lyrical intensity. The result is an aggressively raw opening track which introduces some of the ideas that Mick will explore later in the album. It is not, however, a concept album. While there is certainly a greater degree of social consciousness, it is not overstated.
One of the Good Ones, another single from the album, is about as close as Mick may ever get to composing a dance song. While he does not exactly rap the verses, it is clear that he is placing his vocals as tightly within the confines of the rhythm as possible. Its diversity and style represents a major departure for the singer-songwriter, though one that highlights his versatility as an artist.
While Mick may have been more accustomed to writing about individuals, his exploration of more global concerns is accommodated well within the songs. He still often writes in the first person, which gives the more worldly themes an intimate avenue through which they can be expressed. Beyond My Help, for example, is loaded with imagery of slavery and domination and can be interpreted as being either about a domineering romantic relationship, or viewed through a more socially-minded frame as a relationship between a slave and master.
Cameo offers one of the most lyrically compelling tracks on the album, with a focus on the digital age, loneliness and denial. The character appears to be doing fine in the eyes of society, but still cannot shake an uneasy feeling: “But if I’m so lucky/ if I’m so happy/ why do I lie awake at night?/ Why am I angry all the time?”. Once again these are themes that come to life at the individual or collective societal level.
The expansion of Mick’s thematic boundaries has given “I Own You” a creative edge over its predecessors. His lyrical world has expanded while influences such as Kendrick Lamar have changed how Mick thinks about rhythm and dynamics. While not quite “Bob Dylan has gone electric” (though Dylan may well be impressed by some of the songwriting here), the album is still different enough to raise eyebrows, yet strong enough to mark a significant creative coup for the Corkman.
‘I Own You’ is out now. Check out our recent interview with Mick Flannery here.