SONG REVIEW: Matthew Barton – Fag + Glass Swan

By Jeanette Arsenault

This was an interesting challenge.  From the opening bar to Matthew Barton’s new song, *Fag*, I could see that I was in for something quite different.  I like to listen to a song I am reviewing before I read anything about the artist to get a first impression.

My first impression was:  I’m not feeling his vibe – I found it hard to get past the audio production which sounded like a homemade recording in his basement.  First thing I thought was – he forgot to splice out the first sound you hear – the audible “click” like a tape recorder being turned on.

But I like to keep an open mind so I continued listening to the end and thought – hmmmmm….it’s different but in an interesting way.  So I went to the next song, “Glass Swan” and this one was even more interesting. 

By the time I finished the second song, I was no longer listening with a “ this-is-new-to-me-what-is-this” frame of mind.  I was intrigued because it takes real guts to be unique, not sound like anyone else and put it out there.  Trust me – it doesn’t always work.

But it definitely works for Barton who has the talent to back up his unique style.  The second time through, I knew what to expect so I focussed in on his melodic & vocal ability and he certainly has the chops.  I realize he knows exactly what he is going for.  He plays his own instruments which include guitars, synths, dulcimer, harmonium, organ, autoharp, and anything he can coax into percussive sound. 

Now let’s see:  Barton has a really good voice, he’s different, he plays a lot of instruments, records in his own studio, he’s experimental – who does that remind you of?  Dare I say…shades of the late great purple man himself – Prince.

In his song, *Fag*, Barton sings:

“jesus won’t save you now/no one is there to take you to solid ground”


“did you hear what they said/did you feel what they said

they said “put out your fag and don’t come back”

He explains it best in his own words:

 “I think of “Fag” as a protest song of sorts, or a personal manifesto. It’s personal but universal and really I want to share the song to give hope and courage and resilience – and a voice – to such people. I think it’s really important. I was also playing with the idea of language, the duality of meaning, and the way terms have a cultural impact.  Sometimes I think you need to fight fire with fire, and this song I think is a personal call to arms of sorts”

*Glass Swan* sounds to me like shades of Tom Waits with its gravelly vocals, sparse percussive production and sweet-sounding back-up female vocalist(s).  Gritty and sweet:  teeter-tottering nicely against each other. 

I believe Tom Waits’ recording of *Bone Machine* was made in his basement, too.

Barton sings:

“the river bleeds black tears/dive in and feel again

never, never leave/won’t you wade a while with me”

As I start reading through his material, I can see that his thoughts run deep.  So I read and re-read his lyrics, listen again to his compelling music and think: this is different alright  – and I’m liking it.  

Some people might like to slot Barton into an “arts music” category and I do think there is probably a place there for him if that’ what he’s going for.

But I also think that just like other artists who are different and carving out their own path, Barton will find his following and his fans who are ready for something different but at the same time, still want to hear good talent.

My lasting impression is that I look forward to keep him in my view.  I think he is one to watch. Time will tell.


twitter: @bartonmb

instagram: matthew.barton

Published by Jeanette Arsenault

Jeanette Arsenault is a singer/songwriter/recording & performing artist/mentor/coach who is now pursuing her new passion for music journalism. She is also currently preparing the foundation for her new business to provide support, consulting and resources to musicians.

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