In today's toxic political climate the burden of writing socially relevant songs has never been weightier. The temptation is to keep churning out more silly love songs or merely to pay lip service to the mess we're in.
In the 1960s, folk singers expressed outrage and rage in their songs with at least a vague optimism that their voices would be heard and that change was possible. By contrast, post-millennials are embroiled in an age of anger in which cynicism is often a default option. A deep distrust in world leaders has created an unprecedented rise in levels of pessimism and apathy.
Why bother trying to make sense of it all?
One possible answer is suggested in a scene in Haruki Murakami's mind-bending novel 'The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle' in which a singer is addressing his audience: "The reason that people sing songs for other people is because they want to have the power to arouse empathy, to break free of the narrow shell of the self and share their pain and joy with others".
This desire for caring and sharing is more than evident in the excellent songs of Nigel Stonier. The ten original tunes are a breath of fresh air in that they show that ,however black the clouds are, there's still a point in looking for silver linings.
The achievement is all the more impressive since he's also an in-demand producer and active touring musician. This meant that his seventh album needed to be written and recorded quickly. Despite, or perhaps because of, this, the result is a healthy marriage of spontaneously and subjectivity.
With a warm, yet caustic, wit Stonier reflects on the need to "be defiant, be amused" while not shying away from complicated questions and searching for reasons to keep faith in humankind.
With a voice that combines the integrity of Bill Fay and the geniality of Randy Newman he directs his, and our, attention to the traps and trappings of the modern world with topical references to Spotify, Twitter, i-phones, bucket lists, snowflakes and psychopaths.
It begins with Bad Dancers Of A Certain Age, a thinly veiled dig at more commercially minded artists ("tangled up in beige") who seek to be all things to all people yet end up being nothing much to anybody.
This leads into Navigate, the glorious title track that eloquently documents how, in recent years, things have gone from bad to worse: "you who watched the old world crumble, watch the new one do the same".
On other songs he offers support to a troubled friend (Safe Place), muses on death (The Strange Untried) and, with Me With You, produces a genuinely touching love song that humorously addresses the challenges of maintaining a sane relationship: "Easy's overrated, let's get complicated".
Tracks like this mean that he manages to skip lightly and entertainingly over even the most serious of topics.The album closes with the "existential slip jig" of Red Letter Life and the singer sounds chipper in the quirkily titled Whaddup Quockerwodger (Showrunner's Blues).
But the heavy irony of What Could Possibly Go Wrong, shows that Stonier is under no illusions that a turnaround in global fortunes is in any way imminent: "The sun is out, the pound is strong. What could possibly go wrong?"
The future may be bleak but, in this same song, Stonier offers a glimmer of hope in affirming that "music's still a vital force"; a truism validated in this honest and intelligent collection.
Nigel Stonier's website