Album Review: Willie J Healey - 'Twin Heavy’

The spritely, 60’s-flecked Twin Heavy is the latest full-length exposition from softly-spoken, small town balladeer Willie J Healey. A candid antidote to the trying times; Louis Griffin peers beneath the record’s rosy exterior to uncover some of perhaps the singer’s most anecdotal works to date.

These are strange times. You don’t need me to tell you that, though. Every tweet, news article and friendly conversation down the pub will fill you in. It’s inescapable. But, with chaos comes a craving for simpler times, a need for a smooth hit of serotonin. Enter Willie J Healey.

A troubadour in the 60's tradition, Willie has a knack for conveying pure joy in his songwriting. He fuses the appeal of Mac DeMarco – that slightly ragged, off-kilter smirk – with a far tighter approach to production and songwriting. These tracks are well-oiled ballads, harking back to a time when Lennon and McCartney were busy writing the rulebook of pop.

Photo: Joe Wheatley

Twin Heavy was recorded with Loren Humphries, who’s previously worked with The Last Shadow Puppets and Tame Impala, manning the mixing desk and his influence shines through. The album was tracked straight to tape, and that sunny vintage tone seeps through these tracks. But, far from Humphries leaving his imprint on Healey, he’s just uncovered the sound that Healey’s been aiming for all this time. It’s exactly the kind of analogue-feeling mix that is full of countless tiny details to sink your teeth into, buried deep within. But, fussy these tracks are not. The record is full of unabashed, properly joyous moments – I dare you not to waggle your hips, or play air guitar.

Play kicks off with Fashun, a frankly irresistible start to the LP. It sets the tone perfectly for Willie’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics with my favourite line of the year so far: “I know you, you know me, I guess it’s safe to say we both know each other.” The track has an incredibly loose feel to it, possibly due to it being recorded during an improvised session with Loren as they mixed the record.One night a bunch of Loren's friends came down to the studio and we just started playing,” Healey told DIY, “it was so fun, we didn’t speak about who would play what which made it really wild and I think we got Fashun in two takes. I’ll never forget the look in Loren’s eye while behind the kit. A wild man was driving the train and we all loved the ride.”

"It turns out Willie has a second speed too – reflective, delicate balladry"

It turns out that Willie does a fine line in these joyous bangers. True Stereo and Songs For Joanna both follow the same tradition – they’re soaked in Americana, bluesy guitars slinking past funky percussion. The latter is quite literally a 'coming of age' track according to the chorus, and both have a feeling of blissful naivete about them. But it turns out Willie has a second speed too – reflective, delicate balladry. Title track Twin Heavy fits this description, spaced out but never mournful, as Willie explains that “heartache is a traffic jam to me” and asks “do you feel twin heavy?”

The most accomplished of these slower cuts are absolute blindsiders. Mid-album track Condo is a stunning change of pace, following the spritely Sweeter Than Most. When Healey’s spent 6 tracks with his tongue firmly in his cheek, suddenly switching to vulnerable, heart-on-sleeve confessionals is a powerful move. It’s synth-based, which already sets it apart from the more traditional arrangements elsewhere, and is probably the strongest track on the album – Willie seems genuinely vulnerable here.

My only gripe with Twin Heavy, then, is that it feels at points too long. Following the rulebook as closely as Healey does results in masterful, capable pop, but it can also end up feeling a tad formulaic. The album is slender at 43 minutes, but as we reach the end of 12 tracks, it’s hard not to feel that he’s re-treading ground. Tracks like Why You Gotta Do It and Thousand Reasons are perfectly good, but after 9 very similar cuts, it’s a touch fatiguing. Luckily, closer Caroline Needs is, in the vein of Condo, a doozy mix that sounds almost underwater as Willie lists “some reasons why I need you … why I want you”. And, in a beautifully analogue touch, the album ends on a locked groove, a piano looping over and over.

Twin Heavy is the work of an artist who knows exactly what he’s about. Willie J Healey is keeping the candle burning for the singer-songwriters of old, and it’s a very impressive display indeed. These tracks are mature and considered, but they never once lose sight of fun – the LP is an absolute delight to listen to. Press play, and just try not to grin as the intro to Fashun slides down the piano – I guarantee you won’t have more fun with an album this year.