s laid back as its title, Let’s Just Be shambles, mutters, and drones its way through eighty minutes as though Joseph Arthur left the tape running while he finally worked out some of his Lennon jones aided by a proper band. Mumbling comments and directions punctuate the whole exercise; one song concludes with the band playing Who Can Snore Loudest? at the end of a long drunken jam. The band is having plenty of fun, but whether you’re invited depends on how much gratuitous pissing about you’ll put up with. Production-wise, Let’s Just Be feels like a bedroom recording even when the crescendos bathe the songs in the sonic equivalent of a laser light show. It makes for excellent travel, or at least departure, music.
It’s not quite the transformation of Nick Cave’s recent Grinderman album, but the comparison holds true—each has a renewed sense of abandon. Arthur’s first major record, Come To Where I’m From, was an intensely claustrophobic experience, melodies walled in by his meticulous one-man arrangements, deftly constructed to be reproducible on stage by Arthur on his own. Let’s Just Be is as poppy and willfully idiosyncratic as Arthur’s older work, but is both more conventionally arranged and more loose-limbed than ever before. His band’s radioactive takes on classic rock riffs are backed up by sitars and meandering, mock-mystic drones. In places the album is deliberately impregnable to casual listening, elsewhere as approachable as the neighborhood tipsy bar band.
Arthur gets dirtier than ever before—he’s either been getting laid more often or needs to—singing, with a frank pleading in his voice, “Taste you like a woman” on the sly, seedy “Precious One.” Arthur actually sounds pleased to be cohabiting, and even hands off vocals for a couple of tracks. Whether the single-takes feel counts as a good thing will mostly depend on how you feel about Arthur’s songwriting, which is as strong as ever, causally sliding between tongue-in-cheek pseudo-sexual frenzy à la “Cockteeze,” and lugubrious mourning songs à la “Chicago,” which amply recalls Arthur’s “In The Sun” (aka The One Covered by Michael Stipe and Chris Martin).
Let’s Just Be’s twenty-minute centerpiece, “Lonely Astronaut,” is a different kind of claustrophobia for Arthur—perhaps agoraphobia is better. Half-finished thoughts trip over lusty, ruptured reminiscences and solipsistic twitching—a good ten minute section consists of blasts of raunchy, discordant noise punctuated by Arthur and band groaning “I.” Having seen off all the acoustic guitar lovers, Arthur gets maudlin again in the midst of the collapse, singing “I love you, stay out of reach, some things you can’t teach.” Nothing else on the album is nearly as aggressive, ambitious or flat-out weird; lying at the exact mid-point of the album, it’s destined to be skipped in most listens but deserves better, and promises proper destruction in live versions.
Let’s Just Be’s particular confusion is a sort of acoustical bipolarism. By turns art- and bedroom-rock, eye-popping and inward. Arthur’s grinning, willful agnosticism will piss off just about everyone at some point, and the record appears designed to self-destruct after a few plays—“Gimme Some Company” teasingly rips both “Lithium” and “On A Plain,” a tickling that can only be cured by a proper Nirvana workout. But all the studio chatter helps frame the record as a document of a particular moment rather than an attempt at timelessness. By the time the album closes on the sitar-saturated “Star Song,” with Arthur addressing himself, or perhaps his many forebears—“You need to find a dream now / That can give / What you could not pay / Cause you / Have the ears of the world, now / But you ain’t got a thing to say / Need a little time away, dear”—you’re more than ready to listen to something with a little more pretension, and a little less too.