Thematic consistency unfortunately translates to a fairly one-note album.
“I’m tired of thinkin’ about you, baby,” Glen Hansard spits gruffly on the appropriately titled “Movin’ On.” The trouble is, that’s hard to believe. The Irish singer-songwriter’s third solo album Between Two Shores is a heartbreak album through and through, and Hansard never stops thinking about the object of his love. The bulk of his catalog lingers in emotional songs of love, bliss and remorseful loss. His previous albums, however, weren’t such displays of concentrated angst. Here, Hansard starts from heartbreak and talks himself through his grief song by song. This thematic consistency unfortunately translates to a fairly one-note album, the only glimmers of interest being a few uncharacteristic stylistic choices from the guy who has played the same acoustic guitar to the point that it’s about as battered as his soul.
Hansard has a tendency to paint himself as weary, ragged from his consuming emotions. While the melancholy on Between Two Shores isn’t a hindrance, Hansard seems to enjoy wallowing in his loss, redirecting blame in many cases. On “Why Woman,” he leans into soulful blues ballad influences as he pleads for his lover to “leave a good thing be.” He insists that his lover should “Let it work out by itself” rather than address the problems in their relationship and then characterizes her departure as giving up. “Heart’s Not in It” is perhaps an even worse case, with Hansard flat out saying “You’re letting me down again” before “selflessly” reassuring “You can rely on me.” “One of Us Must Lose” ultimately illustrates that Hansard can only see relationships and their end as me versus you rather than admit mutual blame, a perspective that undercuts his troubadour-in tune-with-his-emotions persona.
When Hansard’s songs aren’t laying blame, his outlook brightens as he commits to self-righteously moving on. “Movin’ On” is the most literal version of this, and the fact that the similarly titled “Setting Forth” immediately follows is poor track ordering. While the abandoned lover efforts play up that sorrow with woeful slide guitar (“One of Us Must Lose”) and somber strings (“Heart’s Not in It”), these tracks combine folky strummed guitar and more upbeat piano lines. Aside from the dramatic strings, this is all familiar territory for Hansard. Occasional intriguing touches come out, with a melancholy horn section on “Why Woman” and the stuttering organ backing Hansard’s angry strumming on “Movin’ On.”
For all of Hansard’s questionable blame and self-care post-breakup, he manages to send off the album with a strong effort that speaks to healthy loss and recovery. The gentle piano ballad “Time Will be the Healer” maintains Hansard’s straightforward tone and soothes with the simple sentiment that time heals all wounds. The track perfectly echoes “Wreckless Heart” that first warned of the album’s downward journey: “Take hold of the wheel/ You’re headed for a fall…You can be sure/ That time heals the pain/ And what’s done is done.” Both tracks are classic Hansard grandiosity, the finale allowing a strained electric guitar to resound with Hansard’s heart wrenching shouts.
Between Two Shores’ most sonically interesting efforts notably don’t fall in line the heartbreak theme. Springsteen-esque opener “Roll On Slow” funnels energy through its resolute kick-drum and rising brass on the chorus. A bluesy electric guitar breakdown in the song’s latter half officially marks its place as a Hansard rarity. The organ-backed “Wheels on Fire” sees Hansard unleash his anger in guttural vocals against a backdrop of gutsy bass and swelling brass. This soulfulness and The Boss vibes have Hansard on the right track to infusing life back into his music and getting out of this rut that plagues the rest of the album. The fact that Hansard self-produced Between Two Shores is even more encouraging. Let’s just hope that next time he broadens his perspective and considers incorporating a full session band into more of his arrangements.