Mike Meginnis

photo: Everett B. Wilson 1961

Review of Fake Valentine in “Splendid” (March 2004) by Mike Meginnis: (featured on “Splendid Boombox”)

The number one mistake made by songwriters who take themselves too seriously is the reduction of life to cartoonish terms. They capture the broad emotional strokes (it makes me sad when a girl doesn’t like me, but it makes me happy when she does) and miss the subtle nuances that make people interesting. For contrast, David Francis is an extraordinarily mature musician who’s not afraid of tackling humor and strangeness in the same breath as lost loves and new flames. He uses romances – successful and ruined alike – to discuss strange little feelings that words can evoke but never truly describe.

The title song “Fake Valentine” makes a strong first impression. Delicate guitar work twists and floats languidly, slow and then suddenly surprisingly fast. David Francis’ delicate falsetto croon joins it. He sings, forlorn, lovelorn, “Just been pretending/ All of the time/ Our love was ending/ I didn’t know./ Just been pretending/ To be mine/ Pretending! Pretending! Pretending!/ All of the time…” As he sings on, his voice clearly on the brink of breaking, strings – a sparkling interplay of cello and violin – join him, accentuating his every word as an incidental function of their own agenda. “I was your lover/ You were just biding time!/ You said that you loved me/ While seeming resigned/ Pretending! Pretending! Pretending!/ All of the time.” The first two or three times you hear the song, you’ll be convinced you’ve heard it somewhere else – it rings true in a nostalgic, delicate way that feels like memory.

Fake Valentine never quite returns to the heights reached by its title track, but its remaining ten songs are respectably solid efforts. “Reflections in the Mirror of the Life I’m Wearing” is a cool, slightly jazzy song about the crazy, intricate disasters people construct (and reconstruct) around themselves, like houses to live in – and about men and women trying to forge some connections between their respective messes. Instrumental “Song for a Party Never Held” is by turns a whimsical ballpark ditty, a haunting ghost’s dirge and a classy piano tune, sustaining itself on its own flesh until it collapses into a bizarre, beautiful amalgamation of all three aspects.

Album closer “Far” is a gutsy shaking-up of Francis’ image. It’s a more straightforward but mildly disturbing rock tune in which he sings, as if from the end of a very long hall, “Stars/ There are no stars/ Up overhead/ The only place that you should be/ Is in your bed/ But you won’t sleep/ You’ll sleep no more/ You’ll lie awake instead/ Why?/ Because you can’t forget/ All the things she said.” It’s the sound of alienation, in strangely catchy form.

Francis’ sound, a bluesy sort of rock made delicate enough to evoke folk songs, would have worked as well thirty years ago as it does today – but that’s an aspect of it, not something you’ll let worry you. This troubadour can play his music pretty much any time and place he wants – his themes of loves lost and found, and his effortless evocation of the subtle dementias they bring, will always be relevant.