Jackie Leven The Mystery Of Love (Is Greater Than The Mystery Of Death)

Cooking Vinyl
29th July 2022

Format Info

2CD with Poster
2LP with poster

2xLP Marbled Vinyl 2xCD All formats With Bonus A3 Jackie Leven poster, designed by Calvin Halliday.

Jackie Leven remains one of the most mercurial, gifted, songwriting and performing talents to have emerged from the post-punk era and The Mystery Of Love (Is Greater Than The Mystery Of Death) was his 1994 debut solo album, reissued for the first time to mark the 10th anniversary of his death. November 11th, 2021 sees the work released on double marble vinyl, double CD and digitally via Cooking Vinyl, with the obscure rare Right To Remain Silent recording from the same era a bonus feature on the Cd and Digital formats. The release of The Mystery Of Love.. follows the first commercially available “Best Of”, Straight Outta Caledonia via Glasgow label Night School released in July and a tribute album, The Wanderer, featuring luminaries of the folk, punk and rock worlds available from September 17th.

The resurfacing of Leven’s debut masterwork hopes to cement the legacy of a genius taken too soon and often left unsung except by a loyal cult following. While The Mystery Of Love… is the first Jackie Leven solo album, his career had by the time of its release already lived several lives. Starting as a psychedelic folk singer in the late 60s using first his birth name Allan Moffat, then the moniker John St. Field, he progressed to a detoured, twisted form of rock music with his briefly successful, London-based group Doll By Doll. Harnessing the formidable, intimidating stage presence of Leven as frontman, Doll By Doll were dramatic, beautiful, angry, soulful and experimental, pinballing between emotive highs and visceral lows. Their unwillingness to compromise artistically would be carried over into Leven’s solo career, wherein he sought to combine the weight of his personal mythology and songwriting prowess into a singular narrative. The drifter tuned to the suffering of the world, a conduit for an almost supernatural empathy, a restless troubadour forever seeking connection with the open hearts willing to follow.

The Mystery of Love… was recorded after a prolonged hiatus from music. Recovering from a brutal physical assault and an ensuing addiction problem, Leven’s determination to recover from both inform the album, give it an emotional depth and resonance that burrow deep into the listener. This biographical backdrop intertwines with mythological archetypes, ghosts that flit between visibility and imagination, blurring the lines between fiction and the emotional directness that Leven channeled in everything he did. Clay Jug uses the poetry of Hindu writer Kabir to weave a heavily symbolic stomper before bleeding into Shadow In My Eyes, featuring a classic Leven character facing deep despair, a misunderstood man unable to process his anger, allowing his “fists to fly in bars.” It’s an atmospheric introduction on the album to one of Leven’s greatest themes; broken masculinity at war with itself, trying to find a way out, using any means at hand. It contains a barely restrained violence which bursts out with a close mic’d acoustic guitar thrash before sinking back into the mists of the character’s mental jail cell.

Call Mother A Lonely Field is one of Leven’s greatest compositions. As a recording it is cinematic and breathtaking, beginning with a bar room scene singing Danny Boy before Leven’s instantly recognisable vocal, almost unbearably soulful and real, takes turns to soar above and through the mounting tension in his rock band’s version of “Caledonian Soul.” The approach to the song as cinema, full of characters and histories, bending into a great arc of emotion and storytelling is a Jackie Leven trademark and in this song it reaches an early peak.

Leven was a restless, creative spirit seemling allergic to standing still. Here he purloins any number of genres and resonances. On Farm Boy, a experimental, gated rhythm and vocal track cuts up an epic traditional song that could be a Bob Dylan original. On The Garden, there’s a neo folk, post-industrial approach to song, with dark samples and chord progressions forming a nocturnal setting to the song before Snow In Central Park, the equal of Call Mother A Lonely Field in heightened drama and emotional intensity, sweeps the listener away to a whitened, lonely New York in the height of winter. It’s full of desire for connection, for a humanity the city is withholding.

It’s a humanity that’s all over the closest thing to a pop song on the album. Looking For Love features a ravenous Leven, full of desire and hungry for love in a classic tension-and-release song structure. On I Say A Little Prayer, Leven performs a straight cover of Aretha Franklin’s iconic hit before ending the album with a masterclass in virtuoso guitar playing. It’s a flowing show of acoustic guitar mastery more than equal to the likes of Bert Jansch or Davey Graham.

The Mystery Of Love (Is Greater Than The Mystery Of Death) feels like an epic collection of short films that tell a grand narrative of a central character, a fictionalised Jackie Leven portrayed as the wanderer searching for meaning, for love, for an answer to the death that stalks him through a landscape laden with the weight of his lived pain. It’s a narrative that Leven would continually add to and reinvent throughout the rest of his career but it’s arguably at its focused peak on this, the first of his great statements.

Other Releases by Jackie Leven