Beautiful personal tribute to family and loved ones who help you battle through your darkest days
That Brighton-based band, The Miserable Rich, should return with a new album 13 years after their third LP, after which they went on hiatus, is to be applauded. Even more so, when you consider the tragedy which befell lead singer, James de Malplaquet, in 2017 which, conversely, inspired the band’s reunion and plays a huge part in Overcome.
de Malplaquet’s first son died 13 days after his birth in 2017, turning his and his wife, Sarah’s lives upside down. Family and friends rallied round, with Sarah setting up the Kit Tarka Foundation – a charity in their son’s name to raise awareness of the HSV virus, which claimed Kit’s life, and help prevent others having to experience the same.
The band reformed for Kitfest – a day-long festival to raise funds for the Foundation and spread awareness – in 2018. Six years on and they now have an album which not only heartbreakingly confronts this life-changing event, but also accommodates lighter vignettes and brims with hope.
Not all of the 12 songs land, with ‘FHS’ a little twee in its delivery and ‘Taken’ a little generic-sounding, but when Overcome does land, the impact is great.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s the songs which directly address tragedy that stand out the most, the most direct of which in ‘If Only’ is seismic in its sadness and attains a level of emotion that I, as a listener, have only ever experienced previously with Eric Clapton’s ‘Tears in Heaven’ – itself written in response to the death of a young son. Jim Briffett’s acoustic guitar is met brilliantly by Mike Siddell’s violin as de Malplaquet sings in the chorus: 'if we only could go back there and find another way, if we only could go back there and take it all away'. de Malplaquet also provides a spoken address to Kit detailing the regrets of what they were unable to do together and sharing what he and Sarah do to mark his passing and find hope in their subsequent lives. It is utterly devastating, courageous in its honesty and moving – one of the best songs in recent years, but also a difficult listen emotionally, let alone what it must have been like to commit this to record.
Finding brighter days: The Miserable Rich
Acoustic guitar and violin also marry beautifully on ‘Glue’, which recalls the advice of the nurse who spoke with them after Kit’s passing and suggested James and Sarah stick to each other like glue. With Jen Left singing from Sarah’s perspective, the song is another wonderfully crafted effort describing the solace the couple found in each other during their worst moments.
The folky pop of ‘Quietly’ refers to the stoic nature of carrying on in the face of adversity to great effect and ‘Probably Will’ appeals to the determination of the human condition despite the inevitability of things going wrong, with Briffett’s piano and Siddell’s violin carrying the song powerfully.
‘Everything Bright and New’ is an acoustic guitar ballad lifted by lyrics about the birth of de Malplaquet’s second son and his assertion of how he and Sarah would do everything for him and replenish their hopes for brighter days as a family. With Kit’s story front and centre on the album, the final song, ‘Poem for Suzanne’, and its own tragic story is somewhat overshadowed. Its lyrics are what de Malplaquet wrote in his teens when his older sister, Suzanne, left for New Zealand. After being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2020, Suzanne died last December and de Malplaquet played the song version of the poem at her funeral. Playful piano guides this song, which contains lovely metaphors referring to a star in the southern hemisphere.
The other song on loss, love and the human ability to carry on is also the catchiest in ‘We All Know’ – a sad piano tune which could be a callback to The Farm’s ‘All Together Now’ with its ‘all in this, altogether’ chorus. Undeniably catchy, the song loses some of its allure with the whiney backing vocals a bit grating on an otherwise strong track.
Elsewhere, tracks cover different themes, the best of which is ‘Penny For’ with its Spanish guitar, castanets and Beirut-like keyboard as de Malplaquet laments the political malaise of the UK. ‘Ballad of Young Finn’ kicks the album off with energetic acoustic guitar and frustrated lyrics telling the tale of friends who’d travelled overnight to go on a hot air balloon only to arrive when the balloon was already beginning its ascent. ‘Crows’ features math-piano and ponders the creatures referred to in the title and their role in clearing up the planet’s mess in their own inimitable way.
While not perfect, the strength of feeling, musical mastery and variety on show in Overcome presents a winning formula and, if The Miserable Rich, with their orchestrally driven uplifting indie-folk, weren’t on your radar before, then they are well worth your time and attention. The title of the album couldn’t be more apt, with it celebrating the endurance of the human spirit in the most trying of times. And Overcome is a wonderful and rewarding demonstration of just that.
Overcome is out now via Rags to Ruins.