Featuring five covers and five original songs, ‘The Bootleg Sessions’ is one of the most emotional collections of songs I’ve ever encountered. I’ve been listening to it for the past two months – even giving it the title of July’s release of the month – and I’ve been trying to write this review almost as long. When music means a lot to mean I struggle to put words together in sense-making sentences, so this has been a difficult post to finish!
I’m going to be completely honest, and show my lack of knowledge of the pop-punk and emo scenes: the only tracks I knew going in to these covers were ‘Stupid Kid’ by Alkaline Trio and ‘Fairytale’ by Neil Morris. I must have heard ‘Wendy Clear’ in the past – I’ve always been a huge blink-182 fan – but I don’t listen to Motion City Soundtrack much, and I’ve never listened to Reuben (whoops!).
The upbeat nature of ‘Stupid Kid’ is a huge contrast to the introspective, mellow sound threading through the rest of the EP. It’s the standout track: fun, a little silly, but it fits Dan’s personality down to the ground.
The same can be said about ‘My Favourite Accident’ and ‘Wendy Clear’. Heartwork’s music is emotionally evocative, veering towards the melancholy, but faced with a pop-punk song he comes alive. Enthusiasm and confidence seep out of the songs, and you can tell he’s having a whale of a time recording the covers. I can imagine he enjoyed the challenge of adapting the songs for his acoustic guitar, and the change of pace compared to his own music: a shift that’s particularly obvious in ‘My Favourite Accident’, with its piano-laced intro.
When I first heard ‘Nobody Loves You’ I was convinced it was one of the original Heartwork tracks, because the lyrics fit his perfectly. The covers were suggested by fans, and whoever decided that this one should be included is a genius. It’s one of the most logical covers I’ve ever encountered. After listening to the original song since I found myself disappointed by Jamie Lenman’s flat and uninspiring vocal tone, so this is a case of the cover being far superior to the original.
The final cover, Neil Morris’s ‘Fairytale’, is a delight. Out of the five artists covered I think it’s safe to assume that Neil is the least known of them but after seeing him perform in Swindon with Heartwork as his support, and getting to witness the sassy friendship they have, I was looking forward to this cover the most. It opens by playing a snippet of Neil’s original, cutting to Dan saying “ugh, what was that? I can do better”…Which he then does. I’m sorry, Neil, but I prefer Dan’s voice on this one!
The five original songs on the EP are alternate versions of ones that will be on the full-length. I’d heard three of the songs before, as Dan has been incorporating them into his live shows over the past year (the two unfamiliar to me being ‘Water’ and ‘I Was Building An Empire’) and that meant I was instantly biased towards those.
‘Achilles Friend’ (previously titled ‘The Things I Wish I’d Said’, making it the title track of the album) is a great choice for the opener, because despite the resigned nature of the refrain “there’s not a damn thing I can do about that”, it’s the most accessible of the songs. Who out there hasn’t fallen out with a friend and regretted it? Whereas so many upcoming acoustic artists only write songs about love and heartbreak, a simple song about missing a friend is much more effective.
The only song of the EP I’m not in love with is ‘Butterfly’. It works as a live song, and I’m looking forward to hearing the version of it that ends up on the album, but there’s something about this version… I’m just not in love with the production, and it’s the only track that I find myself skipping. The lyrics are beautiful, there’s just something about the choice of vocal effect that means it makes me feel a little bit claustrophobic.
“We’re either making war or making love. Well, if that’s true, then I’m truly fucked” is the proclamation Dan makes during ‘Water’, the longest track of the ten. The light and floating interlude would work perfectly as a song on a soundtrack or a TV advertisement: though the lyrics are beautiful, the musical sections are the draw to this song.
Lyrically, ‘I Was Building An Empire’ is the most complex. “These flowers will burn like my lungs, as my nerves will turn to dust” adds a touch of magical realism to the song, and while I’ve always thought that Dan was a brilliant storyteller this takes him to another level. When I first heard it I was convinced that it must have been one of the covers: for a relatively unknown acoustic artist to be releasing songs of this calibre is very rare. If there are more songs like this one on the album, it’s going to do very good things for Dan’s career.
If ‘I Was Building An Empire’ is the best of the original songs, my favourite has to be closing track ‘Dashboard Confrontational’. The raw power and emotion flooding out of Dan as he slams on his guitar, rage swelling to a crescendo as he roars “if you saw this coming, then you should have driven away”, gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. There was a time when it was touch and go as to whether the song would even make it on to the full-length, as Dan showed concern that it relied too heavily on the drums, but I was almost moved to tears hearing him perform the live debut of it, so I’m ecstatic that he changed his mind. I’m also going to take some of the credit for the song making it this far: I threatened to kill someone if he didn’t put it on the album, and now here we are!
UPDATE 17/09/16: I’m so sorry, but I’ve only just noticed that the Noisetrade link to download ‘The Bootleg Sessions’ was expired! Instead, you can listen to Dan’s five original tracks by visiting this site.