Published Feb 19, 2020Near the end of his third album as King Krule, Archy Marshall croons about a "putrid ooz" that threatens to consume him whole. It's a significant line; invoking the title of his grimy 2017 record, the lyric suggests the need to cut ties from bad influences and toxic attitudes.
This struggle looms throughout the London, UK-born singer/producer's latest release. Musically, Man Alive! isn't far removed from The Ooz, an interior record of dark thoughts and self-defeating internal monologues. Indeed, Marshall sticks to his fundamentals here: dub atmospherics, hip-hop beats and guitar parts that nod to jazz and bossa nova.
But Man Alive! is ultimately a more outward-facing album, and it turns out that Marshall is a conscious and even empathetic songwriter when he gets out of his own head. Distant massacres play out "in the palm of my hand" on opener "Cellular," and "Theme for the Cross" interrupts a beautiful day with a humanitarian crisis. Even when despondency re-emerges on "Alone, Omen 3" and "(Don't Let the Dragon) Draag On," Marshall offers comfort and reassurance instead of sulking.
Old habits die hard, though, and these new songs are just as effective when they convey the frustrations of backsliding. Like "Dum Surfer" before it, "Stoned Again" takes alienating nightlife as its setting, but this time its subject is only letting himself down. "The Dream," "Perfecto Miserable" and closer "Please Complete Thee" find him looking to a lover for salvation from his own worst tendencies; each suggests the effort is misguided and futile.
If previous King Krule efforts could be accused of sad-boy narcissism, Man Alive! shows that Marshall's gaze has never been entirely directed at his own navel. Despair is still there in his songwriting, but so is the capacity for change. (True Panther Sounds / Matador)