An album of Tim Minchin’s personal tribulations? Surely he owes us more

Apart Together

The separation of performers from fans has been no laughing matter this year. Nowhere is that more audible than here, on Tim Minchin's first-ever studio album. Over 15 years, live in concert, he's recorded half a dozen collections of his scathing, satirical, self-deprecating, often brilliantly witty songs. His audiences adore him, and he bounces off them with the comic timing of a razor-sharp wordsmith alert to their every giggle and gasp.

Tim Minchin’s studio album Apart Together misses the mark, says reviewer Michael Dwyer. Credit:James Brickwood

Apart Together misses them enormously. For starters, the conversational charm is replaced by the echo-chamber affectations of A Guy Making A Record. Between his copious world travels and the stage musical characters the composer must inhabit for smash musicals like Matilda and Groundhog Day, it's almost as if he's forgotten how he might pronounce words like "Sydney" and "miserable" in normal conditions.

But it's the album's overarching theme that's most troublesome. "A nervous narcissistic best man at a long and slightly ponderous wedding" was Minchin's self-scripted introduction to the monologue-heavy launch performance streamed on Thursday night.

It's fair to say that compared to the more or less objective targets of his best work – God, shysters, redheads, inflatable lovers, popes, Christmas, Cardinal Pell – the personal tribulations of the mega-successful jet-setting entertainer's lifestyle don't resonate with his usual zing.

Minchin’s usual conversational charm is replaced by the echo-chamber affectations of A Guy Making A Record.Credit:Janie Barrett

In his rather less economical Ben Folds way, he does hit the universal bullseyes of death and love in Apart Together and Carry You, the latter of which is a moving song of frailty and devotion co-written and already beautifully recorded by Missy Higgins.

But it's The Absence of You that hits the plaintive keynote, humblebragging about a lonely wander from Pont Neuf to St Germain; watching the sunrise from the 30th floor of a Central Park hotel; taking morning coffee and newspapers in Soho Square, then soaring to an absurdly orchestrated chorus about the meaninglessness of it all.

The epic production job is more confetti-canon Broadway finale than crestfallen introspection: studio as folly rather than friend. The near-seven minutes of I'll Take Lonely Tonight ups those stakes with a stupendous climax celebrating the fact that despite temptation, our pissed-up protagonist has opted not to cheat on his girl back home. Cheers! (Runs up minibar tab instead.)

Minchin's "I" might not always mean "me", but whoever sits in judgement of ladies in Porsches, ski-resort dads, bankers' wives named Bianca and other high-flying elites while frittering an idle hour on the Airport Piano shows a curious lack of self-awareness.

The trouble is that this time, by his own admission, Minchin isn't joking. The rapier wit is only ever half-sheathed, but even in the imagined last rites of If This Plane Goes Down (yes, lots of planes here), the impending carnage is all about this one guy in the centre of the storm.

Minchin's path hasn't all been roses. He suffered, for instance, a major Hollywood project being shelved a few years ago. The upshot of that is Leaving LA, in which he declares his raging boredom with all the glamorous locales many listeners would love to visit, just once, while torching the lot in a fit of the sourest grapes.

Going back to that narcissism thing though. It is, old timers will recall, a fairly new development in song craft. Didn't the masters strive to transcend the strictly personal to resonate eternal? Today, spoon-fed entitlement from self-obsessed idols, each new generation of singer-songwriters seems to feel more comfortable bedding down in the moist lint of their own navels.

Tragically and wonderfully, the tools to write and record are as close as their mouse. A tiny fraction of them get to travel the world, win big awards and make tonnes of money from adoring fans. Surely those lucky few owe us more than, I went to Paris and all I got was this lousy heartache?

"Here lies a clown who wrote some songs/ He talked too much and stayed too long," Minchin sings of himself, in one of the album's less serious slaloms of exacting wordplay: a long and slightly ponderous memoir spanning Perth to Melbourne, Edinburgh, Broadway and (did he mention?) Hollywood.

No Tim Minchin fan will think that when he is sadly laid to rest. But given all of his early, funny songs, it might not be these they'll remember.

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