‘Humanist’, inspired and created by musician Rob Marshall, brilliantly explores the deep and dark recesses of the human race, supported by an array of ground-breaking artists. As morality, spiralling suicide rates, the fragility of the planet, fragmented nations and political chaos come to the fore, this release could be a soundtrack to this challenging existence that we all face in 2020. It pulls no punches and doesn’t hold back with its’ industrial rock and post-punk power, softened and interspersed throughout with some more reflective offerings.
Marshall, the former guitarist with Exit Calm, who hails from the northeast of England, wrote, produced and played all of the tracks on this album. He drew his inspiration from the sudden passing of a fellow musician & singer, Gavin Clarke. Incredibly, this is not only Rob’s first solo project but also his debut as a producer. There are vocal contributions from the likes of Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age), Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode) and Mark Gardener (Ride). Lanegan was already well aware of Marshall’s gift for compositions, following Rob’s co-writing on ‘Gargoyle’, one of Lanegan’s most successful albums and another half-dozen tracks co-penned by Rob on the critically acclaimed 2019 release ‘Somebody’s Knocking’.
And it is the opening two tracks from Mark Lanegan that gets the album off to a pulsating start. A gentle, ambient intro on ‘Kingdom’ then launches into a no-nonsense belter with signature Lanegan lyrics – “I am the shark below the surface, I am the love that you forsake…riding through the kingdom, death is riding by my side”. ‘Beast of a Nation’ opens with a heavy, industrial bass-line, taking the listener on another searching journey with Lanegan – “I took a train to nowhere, and nowhere is a place I’ll never leave..”
In ‘Shock Collar’, it is great to hear the soaring voice of Dave Gahan again. I heard it on national radio for the first time recently following its single release – an expansive, adrenaline-inducing anthem that makes you sit up and listen, taking you back to the synth-rock days of the 80s but with the added layer of Marshall’s driving guitar.
‘Ring of Truth’ featuring Carl Hancock Rux (Portishead, David Holmes collaborator) was the first single to be released from Humanist last summer. It could have been produced by the late Martin Hannett, with echoes of some of his great work on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures a clear influence here. Stripped back and tortured in places, Marshall has reflected on the origins of this song about how we all suffer from “a deep burden of global issues.”
At over eight minutes in length, ‘English Ghosts’ with John Robb (The Membranes) is pure post-punk epic. Whereas, ‘In My Arms Again’ featuring Joel Cadbury is evocative of The Dandy Warhols at their peak. It has a dreamy feel to it building towards a psychedelic finish. The album then takes a more sedate direction with the regretful, heartfelt ‘Truly Too Late’ from Ilse Maria and the beautiful, meandering ‘How You’re Holding Up’ from the legendary singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith – “Our dreams have upped and disappeared…”
The closing track, ‘Gospel’ featuring Lanegan once again, feels like a cry to the heavens, throwing all of the raw human emotions that feature on the album into one final, desperate, searching roar.
‘Humanist’ really captures the essence of our complex human endeavour with a stark realisation of the answers we endlessly search for and all of the struggles that this quest entails. As Marshall himself puts it, the music examines “…the ways we find meaning, the very liberation of the human spirit.” The album has real depth and authenticity to it, something that all artists aspire to. There is no doubt that the immediate credibility of ‘Humanist’ derives somewhat from the inherent collaborations on this project, however, tremendous credit must be given to Marshall for having the clear vision, courage and tenacity to execute it so well. An outstanding debut!