Matt Berry is a very funny man. He has been involved in the creation, writing and embodiment of some of Channel 4’s most laughed at and loved sitcoms of recent years such as The IT Crowd, Snuff Box and Toast of London. In these roles he typically portrays an outlandishly misogynistic and authoritative figure with a penchant for garish ensembles inspired by the gentlemen of the 1970s, figures upon which he, presumedly, based his various character personas upon. However, Matt Berry as a musician is a very different incarnation. In this guise we see his complexities and his ability to make enjoyable music.
Due to his combined wry humour, you could be forgiven for passing any music written and composed by Matt Berry as another medium to make a joke. Yes, some of his lyrics encourage a gleeful smile, (the whimsical, ‘The Peach & The Melon’) but predominantly, he is a revealing songwriter. The Small Hours is his fifth studio album (not including a live album from last year in which he performed with The Maypoles) released through Acid Jazz. Its position amongst a diverse collection of moderately conventional (Kill The Wolf and Witchazel) and obscure (Music for Insomniacs, comprised of two twenty minute long songs) records strengthens Berry’s approach to diversify and better his music. This betterment is felt and heard throughout his latest album because it is, arguably, his most accessible and inviting piece of music, to date.
His synonymous voice transforms ever so slightly within the mostly pop-rock-jazz informed melodic arrangements. There are times throughout The Small Hours where you could forget that this is Matt Berry as he is more commonly known. One of Berry’s finest songs, ‘Take My Hand’, from 2011’s Witchazel is a romantic invitation to venture into the unknown, to disappear to a foreign land without much consideration. Now, five years later the themes and sounds are more mature, if not a little embittered.
The songs on The Small Hours take themselves more seriously than those on his previous records. ‘One By One’ and ‘Gone For Good’ give the impression, musically at least, that more consideration was given to the arrangements (particularly with the endings) to validate the sincerity of the lyrics – which tell a story of a man who is going through a period of despair, pain and anger as he reflects on a failed relationship. ‘Night Terrors’ is a shining example of Berry’s channelling of these emotions through his experimental jazz influences. The song is just shy of ten minutes in length and in that time we are aurally treated to a mixture of a hushed tickling of the cymbals, a build up of trumpet which then suddenly turns eerily stark for a moment before an organ and an erratic flow of woodwind instruments transition into a brief reprise of earlier tracks. It’s dramatic and verges on theatrical, but that does not mean that The Small Hours does not veer to arrangements that sound a little dated and generic.
Comedy is often a veneer to hide behind, a way to avoid addressing personal struggles whether they stem from relationships, work or domestic life. Berry gives us an honest insight to the workings of his mind and his emotions in a number of The Small Hour’s tracks such as ‘Wounded Heart’, “My whole world has been torn apart… You tore through me like fire.” The Small Hours is a fine album and one that is easily revisited due to its fun and uninhibited nature, which, once again, makes Matt Berry the toast of making music as an outlier.