Bill Ryder-Jones is a national treasure, lets get that out of the way at the start of this review. If Bill ever reads these words, I am sure he will be embarrassed and humbled to be thought of in that way. In all interviews and his music to date he always comes across as a gentle, humble, honest, vulnerable soul and he might not see himself as a national treasure. However, I think it is important to share how much Bill Ryder-Jones means to us. For those of us in particular who have followed his journey since The Coral, who have fallen in love and been deeply moved by each of his solo albums, he is a human being who we all adore and treasure.
We are still in the infancy of 2024 and Bill has released Iechyd Da (Good Health in Welsh, an album title that Gruff Rhys gave the thumbs up to), an album that will simply be loved by everyone and will be at the top of almost everyone’s album of the year charts come the end of the year. This album although unlikely to launch Bill into Harry Styles territory I feel confident in saying this will win him new fans and introduce him to a new audience. It feels like the most complete and accomplished album that Bill has recorded. It feels like the album he has been waiting all his life to create, the path his journey has been destined to reach. From start to finish Iechyd Da is an absolute masterpiece, it is an album that will be enjoyed by everyone, an album that you will fall in love with on first listen, an album that you will return to indefinitely and hear something new, and something beautiful each and every time.
Like with all great albums Iechyd Da is an album you can get lost in, it is an album that is welcoming and comforting. If you have had a bad day and you want to escape from the world, if you have a thousand questions running through your head, trying to figure out who you are, where you are going in life this is an album that you can put on and instantly the world will make more sense to you. You will find comfort in the lyrics, the orchestration will make you feel safe, and the album will become a friend who will never leave you.
Bill Ryder-Jones has always been one of the most honest lyricists this world has had. He has written deeply moving songs about his life, challenges he has been through, mental health and trauma that no one should have to go through. Music has been a constant that has helped and enabled him to keep going. Listening to his songs feels like writing them has helped Bill a great deal, and to share these deeply personal moments with the listeners is something we should never take for granted. Iechyd Da continues with these themes, including falling in love, relationships breaking down, mental health, lockdown, whilst at the same time offering us hope and optimism. The album shows us that even in the darkest of times, there is light, the world is beautiful, we should never stop living, never stop believing in better days ahead and find joy and appreciate what we have in life.
Every song on this album is an absolute stand out song, just give up 48 minutes of your time, listen to the album in the way it was intended and I guarantee you will love every second of it. That said, all reviews love to draw your attention to certain songs and this review will stand by that format. One of the key moments on this album for me is “If Tomorrow Starts Without Me” which sees Bill reflecting on a world without him which, being in my mid 40s, is something I have thought about myself quite a bit in recent times. Hopefully I have got many years ahead but you reach a point in life where you realise you are not indestructible and the end will one day come. There are so many incredible lyrics in this song and the album as a whole but two lines that jumped out to me were “If the monsters call you names / Then I’m with you / I’ve had monsters play games with me too”. An honest lyric that captures friendships, and showing you are not on your own. The other line I love in If Tomorrow Starts Without Me sees Bill reflecting on life “Well I’ve had a good one / I’ve scored a few”. When the end does come that is what we can all hope for.
Bill has spoken in interviews about the breakdown of his relationship during lockdown. This appears to be captured in the albums opening song “I Know That It’s Like This (Baby)” which captures the highs and lows of a relationship from the loving tender moments “Baby, one kiss and I’m in Heaven” to the heartbreaking crashing moment where Bill comes to the realisation that “Well I’m too much / I’ll never be enough for you”. A Bad Wind Blows in My Heart Pt. 3 is of course a nod to Bill’s 2013 album, this is a wonderful moving piano ballad that also appears to be reflecting on past loves “Oh how I loved you”. There are further nods to A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart with characters from this album re-appearing in Iechyd Da, Thankfully for Anthony is the Anthony from Anthony and Owen. Thankfully for Anthony is a song about friendships and how important it is to have people in our lives who have been with us for a long time, know our history, where we come from and are there for us no matter what. “But I felt loved / I was lost / But I knew love”. The strings in this song are some of the best ever recorded.
This Can’t Go On is epic, it is a song that will live long in the memory. It is a song that captures the sense of loneliness, reaching that point where you know there has to be changes,“I walked all night to the Killing Moon / Got to get it right / Got to get it right and soon” sings Bill which is reference to him walking alone through the night listening to Echo and the Bunnymen trying to make sense of the world. The lyrics continue to reference the need to find hope, the need to find something to bring us back from the brink “Got to get myself together because this can’t go on”. This song will give hope to many, the passion, the production, the arrangements all combine to create a song that is so emotional and inspiring that will help to lift many out of the darkness.
The addition of the children’s choir throughout the album is a stroke of genius. Being around kids, who just don’t care, who don’t take themselves seriously, who want to live life and experience as much as they can is something that we all can learn from. Remember what it's like to be a kid, those carefree days without having to worry about adult things is something we need to get back to. The choir gives the album an uplift and no more so than on It’s Today Again, a song that fully captures the importance of life, and despite the troubles we all face “There is something great about life”.
There we have it, those are some of my thoughts on Iechyd Da, there is still more I could say but I feel the need to be respectful of your time. Thankyou for taking the time to get this far. Bill’s words are far more important than mine, I hope I have managed to capture and convey some of what Bill was hoping to achieve with this album. The final mention must go to the artwork, get yourself a physical copy so you can fully appreciate the artwork which captures a painting of a moonlit, pastel pink house in the Scottish fishing village of Crail. The painting is so warm, inviting, and homely and instantly makes us all feel at home which is everything this album is trying to achieve. It is one of Bill’s if not his greatest achievements to date, the album makes us all feel safe at home, gives us a sense of community and fills us with hope and optimism for the future.