I can’t help feeling there is something of an unfortunate disconnect between the expectations encouraged by the forceful and uncompromising visual imagery portrayed by the cover artwork and the reality of the music you find yourself hearing in light of those expectations. Whether this is something to do with a perception of Wilson’s image or persona because of his involvement with the heavier leaning music of Threshold or Headspace I’m not sure, but the overt portrayal of aggression and machismo is thoroughly unhelpful and actually serves to undermine what is an exquisitely compelling and unexpectedly beautiful album.
Wilson explains the rationale underpinning the album as giving voice to the daily experience of trying to carve out a meaningful, secure and even happy existence against all the factors and forces which are ranged against us. “Life is a fight. A never ending brawl and struggle to find a little peace.” The theme is certainly reflected in a lot of the tracks which appear on the album and goes some way to at least partially explaining both the image and the implied attitude which adorns the cover.
Yet you only have to listen to the elegant and graceful lyrics of the sublime Battlelines (Track 12) to understand that Wilson’s heart lies in an all together different direction. “It seems to me that through all this fighting that, mores’ achieved by words and writing than, any bullet fired through war and rage”. Or again: “I understand though I don’t like it that, we were made and built for fighting but, can’t we put those tanks and bullets away”. And then we reach the repeated refrain: “So what if we believe it’s all magical, If it was up to me, watch the mighty fall, we would all stand back and just laugh at war”.
Such an imploring and impassioned cry from the heart, reflected across so many of the songs on this staggeringly poignant album, gives voice to the crisis and the dilemma which shape and form the music and the lyrics. On the one hand the reality is that life is a battle, a fight, brutal, tough and unforgiving; on the other there is the recognition that actually all this is a senseless folly, meaningless posturing, a futile waste. There is a better, kinder, gentler and more human way of living. And it is the tension created from understanding that both these views hold true which lies at the heart of this remarkable and at times heart-breaking release.
Two things quickly and forcibly strike you when you spend time with this album. The first is just how dramatically expansive and passionately expressive Wilson’s voice really is. Superb recording values let you hear with crystal clarity the incredibly diverse range he brings to each song, from the gentle and emotionally nuanced ballads all the way through to the feisty, rugged and good old fashioned heavy rock anthems. The vocal performance elicited by and expressed through the music is simply magnificent, a joyful master class which is a delightful privilege to hear, appreciate and enjoy.
The second is the sheer lyrical brilliance which shines so brightly throughout the album. Initially it is difficult to appreciate the hugely perceptive levels of insight, acumen and plain common sense wisdom which are carefully crafted within each song because your attention is always diverted elsewhere by other things. But the more you listen, the more you begin to pick up phrases and notice sentences which in turn lead you to pay a lot more attention to the skill and care which has gone into the song-writing.
Built For Fighting is an extraordinary achievement on many levels, not least of which is that it is a gem which hides in plain sight and runs the risk of being ignored precisely because of that. It is fiercely honest, impressively direct yet for all that, expressed in and through music which is delicately sensitive, powerfully moving and strikingly touching. By the end it leaves you in little doubt that it is a labour of love which rightly and quite unapologetically wears its heart on its sleeve.
I will be honest and say that on first listen I was distinctly unmoved, primarily, I suspect, because the combination of the cover in tandem with my existing familiarity with Wilson’s other work means I came in with all sorts of preconceptions which just didn’t gel or match up with the music I was hearing. It was quite an unexpected jolt, that is for sure! Now, however, I find I have fallen for it hook, line and sinker to the extent that it definitely stands as a significant contender for album of the year. Let it charm you, let it lure and entice you; you certainly won’t regret it.
This review first appeared for Progradar
9th September 2016
Format: CD / Vinyl / Digital / MFiT
Damian Wilson: vocals
Lee Pomeroy – bass
Bill Shanley – guitars
Adam Wakeman – keyboards
Brian Willoughby – guitars