It’s no secret that great inspiration often comes from heartache, something New Zealand singer-songwriter Marlon Williams certainly can attest to, as dozens of songs poured out in the wake of his breakup from fellow musician Aldous Harding. It’s Harding’s presence on the album—in the form of the gorgeous duet “Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore”—that best characterizes its complexity. As Harding and Williams’ voices intertwine—their rich, languid tones made all the more heart-wrenching by their undeniable compatibility—Williams breaks his own heart with questions like “What am I gonna do/When you’re in trouble/And you don’t call out for me?”
It’s a far cry from the middle-finger anthems and self-empowering sentiments of most of today’s breakup oeuvres, with Williams exploring the complicated and mostly introspective waves of guilt and remorse (“I Didn’t Make A Plan”), and pining and aching (“Beautiful Dress,” “Can I Call You”), that come and go like a cruel tide.
The album’s real bruiser is “Love Is A Terrible Thing,” the title giving away the mood he must have been in upon writing it, and the lonely arrangement of just Williams and a piano driving home the agony. It houses my favorite lyric of the album: “People tell me/Boy, you dodged a bullet/But if only it had hit me/Then I’d know the peace it brings.” The break in his voice makes you absolutely believe his death wish. Comprised of the timeless sounds of despair, it’s a brutal classic that just as easily could have been recorded by Sinatra.
But if anyone can straight up tell you “love is terrible,” while still making you crave love terribly, it’s Williams. His velvet-rich voice is one that’s part lounge smoothie, one part vintage crooner, and one part vampiric Roy Orbison filled to the brim with drama and inherent romance. This ensures that Make Way For Love is more than an album full of weepy torch-songs, but an ode to all the feelings and phases that are the makings of a relationship’s end.
Largely stepping away from the rootsier country, bluegrass and folk influences of his first LP and his award-winning work with Delaney Davidson, Williams explores several different sounds with a palette of cinematic strings, shuffling rhythms and wonderfully melancholic piano. He goes full-on pop with the sunny “What’s Chasing You,” before handing a sharp left with “Party Boy,” which sounds like Suicide playing a 1950s prom. “I Didn’t Make A Plan” winds up sounding like if Nick Cave had been born an island south, and album closer “Make Way For Love” sounds like a 50s doo-wop classic crossed with a lucid dream—breathy romance and reverb-soaked…everything—creating the feeling of being hit by Cupid’s doomful arrow, and starting up the whole thing all over again.