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The promotional material for Richard Dawson's latest album, 2020, begins with the ominous threat that this is his "utterly contemporary state-of-the-nation study" of modern Britain. For a lesser songwriter this would be a disaster, but Dawson has spared us nine songs about Brexit and instead crafted something truly affecting.

Opener 'Civil Servant' introduces the album's instrumental pallet, which includes prominent synth and drum machine, with wild changes in timbre and dynamics. It sketches a portrait of a beleaguered civil servant growing disillusioned with their petite bourgeois job after administering too many punitive government policies. Elsewhere we hear stories of UFO enthusiasts, a disastrous football match, homelessness and the flooding of a local pub rendered biblical by walls of synth.

undercut by tender humour

With each story, larger themes are whittled down until only the most human elements remain. Throughout the album, Dawson toys with the line between trite and profound, best shown on the ten-minute 'Fulfilment Centre'. Over a track that switches between dense angularity and lush folk rock, he outlines the injustices committed against warehouse workers by management.

Reminiscent of reports about the working conditions at Amazon, bottles are peed in, people fall asleep on their feet and someone is forced to miss Christmas due to compulsory overtime. The emotional crux comes at the end with the line: "There has to be more to life than killing yourself to survive / One day I'm going to run my own cafe".

What begins as on-the-nose is undercut by tender humour and the smallness of the protagonist's ambitions.

Jack Buckley

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