Way back in 2014, Ben Abraham released an album which he described as a record about finding faith. Today, he releases an album which is the result of a period in the artist’s life where everything he thought was set in stone changed. A period of re-evaluation, of life altering decisions, of dealing with grief, faith and sexuality.
Ben says of the release:
“if a big theme of my first album was finding faith, then my new album explores what happens when you lose it. ‘Runaway’ was the first song I wrote, and in many ways set the template of what was to follow. I had met the person I was certain I was going to marry but ultimately-during a very difficult time-was unfaithful. All hell broke loose, and I was forced to re-evaluate everything I’d believed to be true. My new album is the story of an unravelling and the track ‘Runaway’ is how it begins.”
This tells only a little of the backstory of this album. I chatted to Ben when he released the superb ‘War in Your Arms’ and he told me then he wasn’t sure if he wanted to tell the whole story behind the record but since then he has bravely opened up, and via social media released the following statement:
“I’ve decided it’s time to tell you the story behind my new album. Since I’ve known so many of you for so long I wanted to post here (Instagram) so you can hear it from me first. As many know, faith has been a central part of my life. Finishing my first album, I was a leader in my church. I nearly got married to a woman I loved. Life felt settled. And then an experience with a man derailed my relationship and sent me on a year’s long odyssey of reconsidering everything I knew about God, the world, and myself. It was chaos. I hurt people. I almost lost my faith. And expanding the boundaries of my sexuality completely changed my relationship with the world. I’ve made it sound poetic but going through this felt like passing through fire. There were tears and it got pretty lonely. It was a kind of transfiguration as the pieces of my life were ripped apart and put back together in a richer way. ‘Friendly Fire’ is the documentation of that journey. It’s an album about the pain and the euphoria of becoming. I’ve told this story as best I can and I’m really proud of it. Someone told me once that spirituality and sexuality are two sides of the same coin; each an expression of the desire in all of us to connect with something outside ourselves. This definitely resonates with me both as a church going Jesus guy, and as a queer person; and embracing the unknowns of each has been expansive and empowering. It’s kind of exhilarating to learn that some things aren’t fixed in our lives and I’m happy to say from the other side of the chaos, that I’ve never been more content-even as so many questions remain unresolved. I can’t wait for you to hear the album.”
This was a statement of real bravery and this is mirrored in an album which reaches deep into your soul as it unfolds. To know the story behind the album is not a prerequisite but when you understand the turmoil and the depth of the feeling in these songs it’s like being allowed to peer deep into the heart of this brilliant songsmith.
The album opens with ‘Runaway’ which is like a confession in its lyricism but set to an upbeat melody that belies the pain beneath. Lines like “faith, I let you down, I lost my way and put your body in the ground” is at odds with the production but this works so well as this makes the song feel like a song of rebirth, a hymn of transfiguration, only underlined as the gospel like backing vocals build at the end. The juxtaposition of melody and lyrics is in itself trans figurative.
Next up is ‘War in Your Arms’, a song I have heard so many times since its release but which still feels like an anthem to the phoenix rising from the flames of desire. “This war is done, nobody won”. A breath-taking song.
Title track ‘Friendly Fire’ follows, a piano driven ode to getting caught in the crossfire as Ben realises that whilst the love will never die, it’s just not the same anymore and the relationship must end. “This love is done; we can’t go on”. It’s about the realisation that when the dust settles there will still be love but not desire. It doesn’t matter how much you don’t want to hurt someone, at relationship end, there will always be casualties of the “crossfire”.
‘Another Falling Star’ is a song Ben was singing live a few years ago in 2019 when he supported Emmy Award winner Ben Platt which has found its home on this new release. It’s a beautiful song that moves away from the personal nature of the opening tracks and gives us a stunning piano led ballad which leads into the rest of the album.
I don’t want to fall into the trap of analysing every song. Each song has a very definite personality making it very difficult to pick high points. The stunning ‘Requiem’ stays long in the soul but every song feels like it could be written for you personally although they are so obviously written about things pursuant to Ben’s reality.
With every song, with every listen I find myself falling deeper into the world that Ben has created. This album has been a long time coming, delayed by the global pandemic and following on from his stunning debut ‘Sirens’ way back in 2014 and then re-released in 2016. In that interim time Ben has written for the likes of Demi Lovato, Ke$ha, and The Chicks, and toured with legends like Emmylou Harris.
Whilst the debut album may have catalysed his career as a songwriter, this album, written as he experienced the most tumultuous period of his life with the break up and a crisis of faith he has laid bare, includes his best work to date and should set him up as a major artist in his own right. There really isn’t a weak track on the album; it’s a gift of music that showcases not only Ben’s incredible song writing but the power of music as a force to heal, a way to deal with the pain and the heartbreak of loss of any kind albeit faith, love or direction but most importantly the way that song writing can give the artist, and therefore hopefully the listener, a cathartic way to come out the other side.
The raw honesty and the emotional soul bearing of this album make it a record for all time because that’s what love and faith do to us all. We are unified in our pain; this album shows us that we can be unified in our healing. Thank you Ben for a spectacular album.