Devin Townsend - Only Half There review

Hevy Devy’s all, in a deluxe package with new CD and archive cassette

Devin Townsend Only Half There cover art

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One of the more strange, prolific musicians to have emerged in the last couple of decades – with afraught emotional journey to match – Devin Townsend was never going to be short of material for an autobiography.

Anyone who’s seen Townsend live might have these concerns: ‘he’s a brilliant speaker, this’ll be great’, and/or, ‘he’s nuts, this could be really unwieldy.’ In reality, it’s both, and as a result presents Devin in his truest form. The highly strung oddball who put Jay Leno’s phone up his jacksie, and the auteur responsible for some of the most profoundly moving progressive music in recent years. The alien puppets and the innovation. The fart jokes and the philosophy.

The book takes us from Devin’s formative years in British Columbia where early revelations come through musical theatre and choral music, as well as Jim Henson and film soundtracks by the likes of John Williams – the seeds of his expansive, enigmatically theatrical music to come. Heavier influences like Metallica and Judas Priest (he’ll later be asked to audition as their singer) sit alongside Zappa (for his “process” more than his sound), Enya and New Age music played in “self help bookshops”. From here on his life is a commanding rollercoaster, leading him from LA as Steve Vai’s singer, to extreme metal ‘joke’ project Strapping Young Lad, to melodious efforts with DTP, unexpectedly brilliant blues offshoot Casualties Of Cool, the Ziltoid headfuckery… all soundtracked by his own journey through personal angst, bipolar diagnosis and a search for greater peace.

Most of this will be semi-familiar to fans, but delivered in Devin’s eloquent, not overly ‘writer-ish’ manner – with fun/funny/curious details aplenty – it acquires substantial charm. Yes, it’s also scatterbrained and exhaustingly self-aware in places, but after a while you acclimatised to Devin’s stream-of-consciousness style. And amid all the dovetailing memories lie some truly poignant observations of the human condition.

We lamented his submission to hipster culture on finding that this package came with a cassette. We needn’t have worried. Featuring a motley, squelchy mix of youthful shred, Floyd-esque experiments and SYL recordings, it sounds like something significant that you’d find in a box in an attic.

As a deluxe set, it’s not cheap. The full package of book, cassette, CD of acoustic tracks (including a beautiful Deadhead and Where We Belong) and illustrated postcards in a box costs £100. The book and CD cost £40. But for an honest, engaging dose of Devin, even with some memories less fleshed out than others, this hits the spot, and for some will be priceless.

Polly Glass
Deputy Editor, Classic Rock

Polly is deputy editor at Classic Rock magazine, where she writes and commissions regular pieces and longer reads (including new band coverage), and has interviewed rock's biggest and newest names. She also contributes to Louder, Prog and Metal Hammer and talks about songs on the 20 Minute Club podcast. Elsewhere she's had work published in The Musician, delicious. magazine and others, and written biographies for various album campaigns. In a previous life as a women's magazine junior she interviewed Tracey Emin and Lily James – and wangled Rival Sons into the arts pages. In her spare time she writes fiction and cooks.