Paul Mark and the Van Dorens’ Gravity is the third album in a trilogy that began with January’s Smartest Man in the Room. The second album Stowaways came out in April of that year and this album of eleven original compositions brings a curtain down on this extraordinary burst of creativity with imagination and tremendous dramatic value. Mark’s songwriting has benefitted enormously from his push into new areas of songwriting breaking free of the Americana influences prominent on his earlier releases. If you haven’t heard Mark before, it is obvious from the outset that Mark is reaching for something far beyond traditional music made new.
“Gravity is Failing” is a bit crazed. The glorious part about it, however, is the artistry it takes to give the impression of something whacky while the performer keeps the song in control. You never get the sense this is a traditionally “personal” song. It comes off, instead, like the musical and songwriting equivalent of a street-corner madman raving about the end of the world. Mark’s piano has a rambunctious bounce you can’t help but enjoy and his vocal phrasing helps bring the song to life.
Mark cultivates a loose diction throughout his lyrics that’s relaxed, conversational, often urban, and rife with unabashed emotion. There’s a tough guy veneer with some of the tracks. “The Next Fight” makes great use of its boxing imagery and Mark conveys its hard knock view of life in convincing fashion. His rock influences surge to the fore with the track “Con Man VIP”. It is, perhaps, predictable songwriters will find the current President a tempting target for their songwriting bile, but Mark succeeds writing a song that shows no mercy towards its subject and sparkles with an assortment of fine individual couplets and lines.
“Friend Gone Astray” will rip your heart out. This story of once close friends still bonded by memories and shared history yet cleaved from one another’s life at the hands of dissolution and time hits hard. Mark frames his lyric as a relatively straight-forward narrative that achieves a 360-degree perspective on the song’s subject. It is, in my view, perhaps the finest moment on this release. “Heart Full of Soul” will garner Mark much deserved attention. This 60’s pop rock classic from The Yardbirds makes a strong case for revisiting that great band and Mark shows masterful interpretative powers.
You can hear it in the even-handed balance he nails between the slightly psychedelicized guitar and the straight-forward nature of its lyrics. The subject is as old as man. Paul Mark’s eleventh album isn’t perfect, some songs are certainly slighter than others, but there’s no question Mark is working near the peak of his powers. Individual opinions will naturally differ, but it deserves its place alongside the preceding two albums. Ending with the emotional outpouring of “December P.O.” not only closes this album on a memorable note, it makes a first-class conclusion to the trilogy. Mark isn’t attempting to remake the songwriting wheel here, but gives listeners a finale encompassing the manifold strong qualities that make his work so impactful.