Album Review: Gabriel Bruce – Love In Arms

Gabriel Bruce“Love in Arms clearly embodies Gabriel Bruce’s eclectic personality: cheesy disco and Chris Isaak’s saccharine macho-rock. And the most aggravating thing is, that he can get away with it…”

Gabriel Bruce  |  Love In Arms

Some releases are undeniably bound to a specific genre; others split into two distinct cores, swinging between tendencies, apparently irreconcilably. Gabriel Bruce’s Love in Arms belongs to the latter category, creating a strong bond between gloomy-blues-y groove and cheesy 80s synth wave. The awaited debut of the London artist, who received glowing praise from Spector’s Fred MacPherson, clearly embodies a musical dichotomy. The video of ‘Little Greedy Heart’, for instance, is the celebration of the slightly dingy side of ‘Love in Arms’: moving our attention from Bruce’s moves, the ‘green screen technique’ and the angel wings reminding us of an early Dave Gahan.

As Depeche Mode did in the 80s, Gabriel Bruce is a borderline figure that, despite indulging in synths and dreamy electro samples, explores a world filled of sleepless nights,  sex and death: “I got this feeling I were dead”. Indeed, the lyrics are undoubtedly the strongest feature of the release, ranging from Hamlet references (‘Dark Lights, Shine Loud’), life metaphors to inner spiritual philosophy: “What’s a little death in the scheme of survival/ I know that it’s true because I read in the bible.”

As a plus, such sensual and charming baritone vocals, more than once compared to the triad Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash, enchant the listener, while creating a deeper and haunting layer, that goes beyond the indie-disco hits like ‘Cars Not Leaving’. Whether he’s whispering lost in a lustful courtship in ‘Zoe’, or screaming at the top of his ferocious, growling voice in ‘Sermon on the Mount’, he tugs at the emotional heart-strings, almost fooling us into thinking that those tacky poppy hits in the background do not really exist.

The hypnotic repetitions of ‘Sleep Paralysis’ conveys the immobility that happens in the space between sleep and wakefulness (“I’ve got this feeling that we’re dead and there’s nothing more”) before bursting into a full Depeche Mode-esque synth explosion.

The most successful attempt of the melancholic wave fusion a là Marc Almond comes when using the latter-day Bowie approach, resulting in “If Only in Words”. In its alternation of emotions, Love in Arms also astonishes us with its wind band, a blunt nod to Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.

However, juggling between amidst such a distinctive sonic palette eventually creates a sense of overwhelming stasis, which is clearly highlighted in the marching ballad ‘El Musgo’. In emphasising the ghostly atmosphere, the funereal organ, the slow beating synths and Bruce’s deep vocals, they push it too far, dragging the song through 5.47 minutes.

Love in Arms clearly embodies Gabriel Bruce’s eclectic personality and lyrical talent, mixing slow-burning melodrama, cheesy disco and Chris Isaak’s saccharine macho-rock. And the most aggravating thing is, that he can get away with it.