Why Matt Berry’s “The Blue Elephant” is a masterpiece
On a walk through the streets in town with a friend, passing by a record store, we had a glance through the window. Looking at the latest releases we compared the best albums on display, “Have you heard this one?”, “I quite enjoyed that one to be fair!”. Scanning the Vinyl’s, my eyes were immediately drawn to the album cover of “The Blue Elephant”. A pencil thin character is stood on the cover, looking like something straight out of a Picasso painting. This peculiar figure is wearing a thin electric blue suit, reminiscent of something an abstract jazz player would wear. Standing in front of swirling pastel blues, oranges and yellows. Suffice it to say it grabbed my attention. The little sticker in the corner told me that Matt Berry was the singer, on the label “Acid Jazz”. Matt Berry is an actor that I am certainly aware of, with his masterfully comedic performances in “The IT Crowd” and “The Toast Of London”. I was also aware he could sing due to his role as Steven Toast, in which each episode contains a short comedic number. I was excited, off to Manchester the next day I knew I could time the 40-minute journey with the album, allowing me to take in its full glory while staring out the window of the Transpennine express. As the journey slowly changed from the idyllic countryside to the skyscrapers and hustle and bustle of Manchester, I knew I had listened to something special.
Track one “Aboard” is a lovely little introductory piece, setting the tone for the spiritual journey ahead. Nice and ambient to start, but then these drums start playing, cymbals and snares and a hint of piano all come together to create a whirlwind of musical force. Grabbing you by the collar and pulling you in to its experimental world. But then, “Summer Sun” kicks in with no indication at all, a perfect transition blends the two tracks together and the mellow cymbals you were putting your feet up to a few seconds ago kick off. Before you have had time to think about it Matt Berry’s triumphant vocals come swooping in, “Give me that summer sky!”. The jazzy drums and Berry’s rich, sexy voice go hand in hand to produce an atmosphere filled with adrenaline and wonder. This feeling continues throughout the album, the majority of it being the gorgeous instrumentals, with Matt Berry’s voice dancing above the rhythms every so often. This causes you to miss it when its gone but allows it to be all the more special when it comes sauntering back in.
Track 2 is over, and the realisation of how talented Matt Berry is dawns on you, and to make it even more impressive, Berry plays 19, yes 19 of the instruments in the album. The record was recorded over the summer lockdown period of 2020, so while everyone else had to simply endure the seemingly endless banana bread making, isolating nightmare, Matt Berry made a masterpiece. Every cloud, right? According to his bandcamp, Mr. Berry plays bass, piano, guitars and a whole range of keyboards and synthesizers, his musical genius and talent shining through like the brightest light you’ve seen in a long time. The only exception is the drums, played by contemporary drummer Craig Blundell, an absolute master behind the kit, serving as the backbone to the psychedelic experience, applying a healthy range of kit to the album. Whether it be the mellow, blissful tracks, or the ones that transport you into another realm.
Something that I am an absolute sucker for in an album is a continuous long player, each track blending seamlessly into each other, allowing for one complete experience. An album that requires your attention for the full duration, this is not just a collection of tracks, this is a journey. This type of conceptual album is a common trope of psychedelia, in the likes of Pink Floyds “Dark Side Of The Moon” and something I loved more recently in Tyler The Creators neo-soul concept album “IGOR”. Basically, I adore transitions, I think it’s a real skill for a musician to make their album flow as if its one track, especially due to the sheer number of key changes and creative bridges that have to be implemented. Therefore, you may not be surprised to know that I think side B of “Abbey Road” is one of the greatest testaments to music of all time. Ever since hearing that for the first time, a passion for really cool transitions awoke inside me, and was recently reignited by Matt Berry.
This does not mean to say that you simply cannot listen to singular tracks, of course you can, and there are quite a few standouts. “Now disappear” is a paranoid, unnerving romp of magnificent riffs and keys. “It’s a draaaaag to be set on fireee!” sings Berry through this near 3-minute acid trip of a song. “Like Stone” is an exercise in upbeat drums, twangy electric guitar and exquisite vocals that smoothly sail across the instrumental’s calm waters. Although, perhaps my favourite track on “The Blue Elephant” is the beautifully arranged three act “Blues Inside Me”, featuring an unknown artist by the name of Rosie McDermott. The track opens with my favourite line of the record, as Berry sings “Every man, woman and dog is looking for me” delivered in that way that only Berry can. There’s also some of the best keys on this track, serving as a superb bridge, frantically playing away as all the other instruments mould themselves around it. Then, bam, you get a beautiful bluesy electric guitar as Matt Berry comes in with some Bob Dylan esc vocals.
“Give me a break and let me ride in your car, I’ll just lay in the back and stare up at the stars, I’ve got some things on my mind I don’t know what to do but there’s no one I’d rather be with than you”.
The last minute of the track is a total eclectic breakdown of experimental blues and jazz all mashed into a colossal, triumphant wonder.
Perhaps the most experimental track of them all, and arguably the albums definitive moment is the title track “The Blue Elephant”.
“You there, step into the light…. I said step into the light, I can’t see you… Are you deaf? I’ve asked you to step into the, oh god.”
This is how we are greeted at the start of the track, a booming voice, a definitive presence towers above before something clearly goes wrong in the narrative of the track. Then, a portal to another dimension is opened, an array of absolutely everything we’ve heard on the album comes crashing down on our ears, and it fills you with pure, ecstatic giddiness. A horn section subtly starts in the background before breaking through into the foreground in a matter of seconds, controlled chaos, is one of the only ways to describe its glory.
“The Blue Elephant” is Matt Berry’s ninth album in the space of ten years, making him admirably prolific, especially considering all the exceptional TV work he is involved in. This most recent album was released on May 14th 2021, and is quite easily my favourite of the year so far, I have struggled to find anything that’s come out in 2021 that sounds even remotely similar. So, if you haven’t heard the record yet, whack It on and be prepared to be transported well away from the bus, train, bedroom or whatever scenario you may choose to have your ears filled with the exquisite tones of Matt Berry.