It’s the search for this elusive something that drives ETSAAM. And by winding things down and denying his songs the hooks that dominated much of his earlier material, Greenwood makes his journey all the more stark. It’s a bold move. But it’s courageous, and you’ve got to give him credit for that.

Lawrence Greenwood doesn’t do things in half measures. In 2010, just as the Whitley juggernaut was riding its highest wave of popularity – with the release of Go Forth, Find Mammoth, the follow-up to 2007’s The Submarine – he pulled the plug on the project, citing disillusionment with music and the industry in general. Fast-forward three years and, after trekking halfway across the world on a quest for self-fulfilment, Greenwood – as Whitley – is back. With an album title inspired by a quote from the great Werner Herzog, no less.

Even The Stars Are A Mess is an ambitious record, destined to divide fans of the Melbournian singer-songwriter. Whereas his previous material, no matter how pensive, always veered towards the anthemic, ETSAAM is an album of prolonged restraint, eschewing catchy choruses and clap-along rhythms for a set of stripped-back songs that put the focus squarely on Greenwood’s voice and his searching, introspective lyrics.

‘The Ballad Of Terence McKenna’is a tender, teasing opener. Greenwood’s clash of optimism and world-weariness has never been so stirring. Backed by a gently strummed guitar, he sings: “It is not a mean world / It’s beautiful / I’ve seen it”. But just as the song appears poised for take-off, it slips suddenly back into the void from where it came. Lead single ‘My Heart Is Not A Machine’ is a less dramatic but similarly restrained effort. As with the bulk of ETSAAM, Greenwood strips back all excesses to shine a light on lyrics that ponder a range of grand existential questions. On the spooky, skeletal ‘OK’, he nails the source of his unrest, singing: “It’s just that I need / More than the world has in a moment / Just by a pinch”.

3.5/5 stars

BY WAYNE MARSHALL

Even The Stars Are A Messout now through Universal/Dew Process.

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