Man Alive! opens instantly with a taste of the surreal: “a French girl / On my television … crying in the palm of my hand”. ‘Cellular’ gives us a winding insight into the mind of Archy Marshall, his scattered thoughts of faraway crises and failed romances spilling out as he reads newspaper headlines on a train. Much of Man Alive! unfolds in the same manner – contemplating humanity whilst grocery shopping like Allen Ginsberg, spiralling off into thoughts of loneliness and his nearly born daughter when looking at distant planes.
This album is tighter than Marshall’s previous work, and yet is still sprawling, the dirge of the album bending over cityscapes, wet pavements and lonely bedrooms. ‘Comet Face’, for instance, describes brilliantly the lawless chaos of a London suburb at half five in the morning, with Marshall standing in the scene as a shadowy observer. He thinks over each person and the pathways in their life that led them there, questioning too where he fits into all of it. Man Alive! pulls apart the mundane sights of modern life and transforms them into gritty poetry, bridging the gap between gazing outward at the world and reflecting deeply inward.
At times the album can be remarkably intimate too. Perfecto Miserable has to be one of the most tender songs of Marshall’s career, confessing “you’re the only thing / That makes me feel alright” into his partner’s answering machine as she repeatedly fails to answer. This is a modern love song, and Marshall is laying bare here an uncomfortable truth, the parts of his love that manifest themselves as a desperate craving for acceptance. If you let it, Man Alive! can take you on a remarkable journey through this cold and lonely world, overflowing with cynicism, despondency and obsession.