Joseph Arthur is as cult as an artist can get, not only because he flirts with best-kept secret status and images of him are hard to come by, but also because the world he creates as a rock auteur is so private. Nuclear Daydream is actually less dreamy than Arthur predecessors such as Redemption’s Son, an atmospheric masterpiece colored by loops, electronics and other one-man effects. But its languorous sound and enigmatic point of view still leave us in a suspended state, elevated by melodies far happier than the words.
Stripped of the melancholy this Ohio-born New Yorker has dispensed, as well as the orchestrated effects, the album is a rather calm dispatch from the front of drug addiction, replete with references to oblivion, crashing, hiding and turning blue. “In the mirror everything’s reversed,” sings Arthur, who might be describing his role here in injecting notes of hope where there are none, and promises of absolute spiritual truths where there is only life “in an empty room.”
Arthur arrived as a protege of Peter Gabriel, has been compared to David Bowie and the Velvets, and seems inspired in spots by Australia’s great Go-Betweens. But even with its folk-harmonica basics and occasional twang und drang, there’s nothing old-guard about Nuclear Daydream. Alternating between a subdued tenor and nervy falsetto, Arthur mysteriously transforms pain into beauty and emptiness into belief. When he sings “Jesus loves you/More than you know,” who’s gonna disagree?