Caught somewhere between the rain-drenched streets of Manchester and the sun-beaten deserts of America lies Nev Cottee’s third album Broken Flowers. A deeply cinematic, string-soaked album rich in atmosphere and brooding ambience. Its origins however, began in India, with Cottee trying to leave rainy-city heartbreak behind.
“I hate the English winter. Really can't stand the grey days. So I shipped out to India in January 2016. I found a place and set up a simple studio to demo out there”. Rising at dawn each day the ideas began to flow and quickly enough 20 new songs began to take shape, “Maybe the new surroundings helped - getting out of my comfort zone, getting away from all the shit one accumulates at home".
The songs, even in sparse demo form, captured the plaintive tone of Cottee’s vocals slowly unfurling in emotional waves - the gentleness reminiscent of Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce but with the rich warm resonance of Lee Hazelwood. Cottee then took the songs to Wales to work with previous collaborator and producer Mason Neely (Lambchop/Edwyn Collins). Neely brought in some classical musicians, “cut away the flab” and pushed the songs to their extremes - the producer's intuitions and abilities clearly trusted by Cottee, “On the album notes it says 'Mason: Sounds' and that's him in a nutshell. He brings so much to the table and gives the album it's sonic identity - I can't give him a bigger compliment than that.”
Whilst the finished album hums with quiet beauty - dense swirls of ambience hanging in the air as elevating strings cascade through - there’s also a darkness, “Although I recorded during the day this is a night time record. It’s dark and introspective. I find that juxtaposition hugely creative. The night in India can be quite a foreboding place. Me and a mate would make late night excursions inland - into the heart of darkness. Not quite Apocalypse Now but enough to take you out of any semblance of comfort. We saw some strange things, weird village ceremonies, people biting snakes' heads off... the songs represent a physical and mental journey.”
The film score work of Ennio Morricone and John Barry shines through the sensitive yet powerful arrangements - Barry in particular being a favourite, “People see him as somehow inferior to the greats because of the Bond stuff but for me it's some of the most emotional music I've ever heard. Trying to get the that sound is pretty difficult unless you've got The John Barry Orchestra and a million quid to blow on the album - but Mason did his best god bless him.”
Tom Waits’ Blue Valentine and Beck’s Sea Change were both touchstone albums during the recording process but ultimately what ends up shining through on 'Broken Flowers' is Cottee’s own vision and unique tone - a Spaghetti Western shot on the streets of Manchester as the incessant rain hammers down. Sense of place is crucial to Cottee, he remains "a true Northerner" yet it's something the songs battle with throughout, “I’m old and I’m lost, living here comes at a cost,” he sings on 'When The Night Comes'. “If you're lost then you’re lost wherever you are. Running away to India isn't going to help.” He says of the lyric, “I was completely lost because I had everything I'd planned for taken away. It's a rough place to be and I have sympathy with all the lost souls out there.”
That said, exploring other cultures around the world has helped shape Cottee’s 'Britishness' rather than erase it. “I've been out to California several times and love it out there. I completely buy into the whole west coast music scene. However, it can all get a bit clichéd if you’re looking to California for inspiration. Before you know it, you’re singing about highways and the like. Like being in India, being out there always gives me a good contrast and makes me more English. Writing about 'cold English lanes' whilst wandering around Big Sur”
This reconnecting of place, personality and identity on the album makes it an intriguing, intimate listen. To Cottee the finished album is a document of a period of turmoil in his life. “I see the album as a journey from a kind of questioning bewilderment to a form of madness.” He says of its unfolding narrative, “It's not a cathartic thing for me. I don't see it as helping or reaching an end point in any way. It's just honest. And that's the main thing. Hopefully people will hear that”.
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