Solo albums in a similar vein to Strange Tales of Drugs & Lost Love are interesting in that they’re usually presumed to be tender, soul-baring affairs in where an artist is raw and vulnerable. Usually.
Ben Ely recently moved back to Brisbane after being away for 16 years. His return saw him remembering and thinking about what he had experienced as a younger person. Brisbane was once a more dangerous place than it is now, which may explain as to why it was such a fertile place for art, but I digress.
The focus of the songs is much more on Ben Ely’s voice and getting his stories across than it is the music, so it’s a good thing that Ben uses his voice quite effectively. Aside from the wonderful “Dreamland” closing the album with a warm, layered and beautiful drone, The songs are fairly simple and quiet with a few flourishes to add onto the straightforward guitar work, adding some textural depth. The vocals are kept as simple and straightforward, with Ben’s enunciation remaining excellent throughout, creating a strong clarity in the invoked imagery of his direct lyrics.
Whist everything works well enough, the unnecessary use of reverb on Ben’s voice creates a disconnect between his lyrics and the emotions that he is expressing. It feels almost as though Ben is trying to put distance between his words and what images they conjure but instead it cuts the emotion out. It’s hard to deny that some of the things that Ben sings about are intense experiences it isn’t felt. It is possible that this may be the intended effect as there is a sense of calm about all the songs and Ben is singing more about his experiences being just that and not some sort of reflection on how he was versus how he is now, but his vocals would have been better served were they recorded dry.
Otherwise Strange Tales of Drugs & Lost Love is not a bad album. The songs are simple and direct, and they work really well both together and on their own. Ben’s experiences of doing drugs, getting into fights and people experiencing severe mental episodes, among others are supported well and the narrative remains strong throughout.