Reckoning with mortality is no small feat. It’s a branch of thought that reaches into all corners of life, arriving as daily existential dread, outlining grief over loved ones lost, and polluting even the most pure and simple joys of life. This has been Jenn Champion’s bread and butter in many regards, first making her name as part of sadcore indie band Carissa’s Weird and thereafter under her S moniker, guiding fans through the depressive episodes of early adulthood. On her new album under her own name, The Last Night of Sadness, the anguish is plain to see from the title alone; when asked what she wanted to convey with the record, Champion states “Suffering. And what a miracle it is to be alive.”
There’s hope in the title but still the album is littered with anxiety and worry; across its 12 tracks she recollects time in rehab, wrestles with fame, and ponders over how to comfort friends suffering through depressive episodes. It aims to be an ode to hope, a torch song for those full of doubt, but instead is clumsy, colourless, and even in bad taste at times.
Champion has a lot of thoughts she’s trying to process, but she doesn’t often succeed in detailing events well or arriving at any kind of considered conclusion. On “28” she details time spent in rehab and friends met there. The detail is murky and clunky (“Tori got sent here / On a few prescriptions / She worked at an office / Dental reception”) and the diaristic storytelling isn’t helped by a backing of little more than some dreary synth chords. The melancholic piano ballad “Jessica” pays tribute to friends lost too early to drugs and even though the gallows humour sometimes works (“Honestly, who ODs in their fucking 40s?”) the repeated chorus of “Stupid dead Jessica” seems a little tasteless as tribute, even if sung with grieving defeat.
Elsewhere there’s a frustrating lack of insight or depth. “Millionaires” warns against not living life to the fullest, but a chorus of “Let’s be millionaires / living like nobody cares” rings hollow. “Love Song (think about it)” aims to be a pensive piano ballad akin to Billie Eilish’s more tender moments, but despite all the vague detail Champion pours out in the verses about two broken souls connecting, the chorus once again offers nothing besides her repeating “think about it.” The track’s counterpart, however, “Think About It (the turn)” fares better, capturing a playful and carefree Eurythmics-like tone that one could dance away worries to (especially if it was longer).
That The Last Night of Sadness was self-produced, self-recorded, and self-released is admirable, but the album ultimately suffers from being too inside its own head. The tone is jumbled and production choices are fumbled here and there, be it in the rough edges of the music or the desperate need for an injection of outside colour. “Breathing” is one of the few dynamic moments on the album, morphing into a wash of synths, but equally could have been a sweet and short piano interlude. Opening track “Famous” tries to make an assertive warning about the dark side of fame, but at this point in her career it feels like a misplaced and irrelevant anthem.
Champion wants to walk the line between dour humour and plainfaced truths, and she has the pessimistic chants to do it: “My friends keep dying / They couldn’t get help / There’s no fucking guidance”; “There’s no way out / and all of us are gonna die”. However, she doesn’t marry the two well. As a whole, the album juts about, and it’s hard to tell how serious she is being at any given moment and whether we should be smirking along or doubling down on the despair with her.
Sometimes it works and comes together well enough. “Good News Bad News (we’re all gonna die)” has a starry synth and deadpan delivery going for it, while “Graves” merges some banjo into the mix, adding a welcome textural difference to the aural landscape. Ninety second final track “Happy Birthday” is wry and lighthearted, the kind of thing you might enjoy seeing written inside a birthday card from a friend. “One day you will be six feet down / Or have your ashes spread through town,” she sings with a sardonic tone. “But not today, you didn’t die / Happy birthday you’re still alive.” Death hangs in the air, but it’s a small detail to laugh in the face of as opposed to being dragged down by. This is the friend Champion needs to be. It’s a shame it takes her 35 minutes of fumbled wordiness and forgettable synth backdrops to get there.