“One day I’ll know as I am known,” Matthew Perryman Jones sings in “Happy,” the opening track of his fantastic new album, The Waking Hours. The line is both a hopeful prayer and a knowing promise that tugs at the heartstrings of the song cycle: the idea of letting control go and giving ourselves over to the transformative power of love and life.
The narrator of “Happy” has “all that I've wanted, more than I need. I’ve got a girl on my arm who loves me.” The chorus, though, concludes with a question: “Why can’t I let myself be happy?” It's a question he answers further into the set, on “Half-Hearted Love,” when he confesses that, “...the truth is I’m afraid to love what I could lose.” It's a fear he's not alone in suffering.
To convey the song's “idea of moving in love with no thought of return, with the eagerness to have it, even if it completely ruins you... in the best way,” Jones turned to one of his favorite Goethe poems, “The Holy Longing,” and borrowed the tried-and-ever-true imagery of a moth being drawn to a flame. After all, you have to risk the sorrowful depths of loss in order to rise the joyful heights of love. That's the grand bargain of life.
And that's, ultimately, the central thesis of The Waking Hours, Jones's fifth studio album.
Relentlessly considering life from and through every angle is classic Matthew Perryman Jones, as evidenced so clearly on his past releases, especially 2012's Land of the Living. The Pennsylvania native is a seeker of truths who also happens to be a writer of songs, so his existential rumblings and reckonings get turned into art that is both beautiful and meaningful. Even so, that art, according to Jones, can't — mustn't — be a stopping point for others on their particular journey. It can only be a sign post.
“Life is not found in concepts or interesting thoughts that others have lived and whittled into words,” Jones muses. “We have to have our own experiences to form our own way of being and thoughts about things. And then you have another experience that shapes it all into something different.” Letting go, it seems, is actually the most vital part of holding on.
Jones touches on this throughout the album, on the seductively stuttering “Careless Man” which features both Young Summer and Marilyn Monroe, on the eminently singable “Anything Goes,” on the quietly haunting “Coming Back to Me,” and on the gloriously anthemic title track.
Closing the album, Jones took a turn into Tom Waits' “Take It with Me,” which was captured in the first and only take of it he did, as a way of honoring the song's spirit. “This song conveys whole-hearted living beautifully,” he offers. “I thought it would be a great way to close this record out.”
Whole-hearted living, whole-hearted loving... there's no other way through this album or this life. It is not easy, but it is simple. And Matthew Perryman Jones shares the secret in “Carousel,” singing, “Close your eyes. Forget where you’re going. Joy can take you by surprise. Just let it in.”