Anybody hankering for the days when Scott Walker used to bare his lyrical soul and Jacques Brel was more than a name in the world music section has doubtless already discovered Philip Jeays -- otherwise known as the best-kept singer/songwriter secret in recent British rock. Recorded at a time when Jeays was best known for his regular appearances at the Edinburgh Festival, his 1999 debut album, October, caught him following merrily in the footsteps of Walker's fourth solo album (Scott 4, of course) by composing his own original chansons (there is no other word for them) in the spirit of the Belgian Brel, but delivering them with breathtaking originality. Never happier than when delivering up a musical joke to counteract the apparent darkness of the songs, Jeays wears his influences on his sleeve. "Geoff," for example, owes more than the title's phonetics to Brel's own "Jef," while "Madame" follows another Brelian trait by pursuing its theme through irony, sarcasm, and maybe even disdain. Despite his reputation, after all, not all of Brel's (or Walker's) songs were maudlin, tear-soaked chestbeaters and, though October does undeniably pack its fair share of genuine heartbreakers, Jeays seizes upon this less-illuminated stylistic facet with undeniable glee. The end result is an album of smoky cabaret and brutal honesty that stands proud in a Eurocentric English songwriting tradition (you can add Kevin Ayers and Marc Almond to the list) that has lain all too fallow in recent years, and whose return is so long overdue.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Thompson