What’s inside the mind of the modern man? Well, according to Benjamin Folke Thomas, this fellow is a bit of a dreamer, somewhat insecure in his love life (and even prone to occasional fantasies) but deep down he’s a good guy who worries about the environment and rails against injustice. Importantly he also has a sense of humour, witness the back cover art which has Folke Thomas in a space suit patiently queuing with his shopping in a mini mart – an outsider tasked with mundane tasks.
Recorded in his native Sweden, Modern Man bobs and weaves its way through several styles- Neil Young like guitar tourneys, jangly pop rock, and introspective folk all raise their heads here- with Thomas’ winning voice and his well crafted words the glue which binds the album together. He says of the disc that he “Wanted to get away from just writing about myself and my broken heart… or at least to do it by taking the piss out of myself with sardonic humour.” There is a touch of biography in some of the songs with One Day a poignant number where he recalls his early troubadouring and dreams whimsically of the day he becomes a star. Stuff of Dreams is another night time fantasy with Thomas, an avid pool player, dreaming of meeting Paul Newman in his Fast Eddie Felson persona to play a few breaks and “chew the shit.” Here Thomas’ impish humour is apparent in the heavenly refrain which floats out throughout the song in contrast to Thomas who sings it as if he were Johnny Cash. There’s more oohs and aahs backing the opening song Tasteless and Complacent, a fine jangled number which introduces Thomas’ querying of the human condition (which reappears throughout the album) as he employs a somewhat misanthropic protagonist who has a glimpse of salvation if he can only find some folk who like him. Likewise, Some People has guitar jangles and a driving beat although here Thomas sounds almost like Gene Clark at times as he casts around various belief systems trying to make sense of them.
One More Chance is an affecting portrait of a man pleading for, yes, One More Chance, as his partner packs her bag and sets her ring on his table as she goes off to seek someone with a “better insurance policy.” As a break up song it works magnificently although one can’t help but suspect that it’s written and sung somewhat tongue in cheek. More unnerving is the title song which starts off describing a stalker who follows his prey before zooming out allowing the listener to acknowledge that this man could be any one the male population. The song is set to slow burning electric guitar over a sludge like rhythm, eventually picking up pace before climaxing in a frantic burst of noise, the irony felt in every note. There is some sweet revenge in the murder ballad, Lily Like A Gunslinger, where an abused woman shoots her husband after 14 years of abuse, the words as hard-boiled and lean as in a Jim Thompson story.
Finally, there’s the magnificent guitar epic, Dead Horizon, which has Thomas and his band (The Swedish Folk Mafia) invade Neil Young and Crazy Horse territory as they growl and wail for seven minutes. Thomas points his finger towards populist movements with his words here reminding one of the late Phil Ochs.
With Modern Man, Benjamin Folke Thomas has delivered a mature album which is both personal and significant as he investigates the modern malaise. It’s a grand listen with some humour involved but it’s also deadly serious.