On Son of Sam, Scott Hsu’s one-man band Meta Forrester recounts the tale of the rise and fall of Samson, one of the last of the chieftains — or judges, as they are referred to in the Hebrew Bible — of the ancient Israelites.
Each track on the record is a literal retelling of an event from the Biblical narrative, with eight out of the eleven tracks sung from the point of view of Samson himself. The writing is plain, direct, and stripped-down, with nary a literary device in sight — presumably an intentional exercise that lets Meta Forrester fade into the background and Samson speak for himself. While it is refreshing at first, the pedestrian nature of the writing becomes irksome over the course of the album.
The pair of taketh-no-shit, giveth-no-fucks rockers that open the album could very well serve as theme songs to a certain movie franchise involving a merc with a mouth. On Reckless Danger and Cross the Line, our shit-talking, crop-burning, temple-razing Nazirite sets the tone for the rest of the record as he sings of his intentions to bring down mischief and destruction upon the Philistines. I’m not your hero, I’m not your saviour / I’ve got a longing for the wrong behaviour, he sings on Reckless Danger, proving that Samson is the OG when it comes to inflicting mindless violence upon one’s sworn enemies.
The meat of the narrative begins with the third track, The Lion, which talks of Samson’s journey to Timnah and his encounter with the lion that appeared from the mountains. The rest of the record is a linear and near-faithful retelling of the events in the Samson saga. Curiously, the tale of Samson’s death and the destruction of the temple of Dagon is omitted from the narrative. Meta Forrester simply stops after Now I See, where a blind and defeated Samson repents his misdeeds as he is taken prisoner by the Philistines.
(Update: after the publication of this review, Scott wrote to us mentioning that the bridge of the final track on the album does in fact mention the destruction of the temple of Dagon.)
Sonically, the album is a treat to listen to. In an era of maximalist, digitally processed music, Scott plies his trade with nothing more than an acoustic guitar, a kick drum, a snare, and his voice. As a result, timbres and sonic textures that would be lost within a larger ensemble are readily apparent on Son of Sam. Each instrument on the album is given ample space to breathe, lending it a lush, warm sound. Listening to Meta Forrester is an intimate experience, like sitting around a campfire with close friends, telling stories. Given the diverse and rich instrumentation, it’s a shame that it’s allowed such little time in the spotlight as it merely serves as a backdrop to Scott’s vocals.
The vocals in the first half of the album are delivered with incredible energy as Meta Forrester sings of Samson’s early exploits. Invigorating at first, Scott’s penchant for yelling and consistently trying to hit the higher registers gets exhausting after the fourth of fifth tracks. On the second half of the album, starting from Eye for an Eye, the pacing gets better as both the chronicler and his subject mellow down. The music winds down satisfyingly as Samson’s tale is (almost) brought to a conclusion on Now I See.
Despite the simplistic songwriting and a few vocal missteps, Son of Sam is a fun, spirited concept record that proves that making great art requires skill and ingenuity, not equipment and technology.