Genesis’ Abacab at 40

18 September 2021 is the 40th anniversary of the release of Genesis’ watershed album Abacab. It was the band’s eleventh studio album and their third as a trio The album saw Genesis deliberately steer themselves into a post-new wave direction by rejecting any material they wrote which they felt was treading old ground or adopting what they considered to be group clichés. Gone were the extended solos, long journey songs and elaborate harmonies and arrangements to be replaced by a stark sonic landscape, shorter and more concise songs and a heightened emphasis on Phil Collins’ drums, building on the sound he created with engineer Hugh Padgham on Peter Gabriel’s third album the year before. Padgham was asked to work on Abacab as engineer to help the band establish a new sound. The album was therefore the band’s most stylistically experimental and challenging since 1974’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. I remember buying this album on release and being disappointed after the monumental Duke. Now, I can look back on the album and enjoy for its very willingness to surprise and the band’s determination to progress and adapt their approach to songwriting.
The album opener ‘Abacab’ signals the new direction with its raw energy and Collins’ abrasive vocal. The closing jam was indeed an unedited session that relies on spontaneity and eschews composition. ‘No Reply at All’ is a funky song supported by the Earth, Wind and Fire horn section who had worked on Collins’ solo album Face Value, released as the band were writing Abacab. ‘Me and Sarah Jane’ has a more traditional Genesis feel in its two-part structure, but delves into new influences of reggae. ‘Keep it Dark’ motors along on a repeated guitar riff with Banks holding back on synth harmonies until the chorus. ‘Dodo/Lurker’ is the standout track on the album and blends old and new Genesis perfectly with dramatic sweeps and quirky synth lines. ‘Who Dunnit?’ stirred strong emotions amongst old-school fans for its punkish and tuneless approach and can wear a bit thin after repeated listens. ‘Man on the Corner’ was a wistful Collins written song that relied on its sparse arrangement and drum machine pattern for its atmosphere and maybe a little too close to his ‘In the Air Tonight’ in execution. ‘Like it or Not’ is a plodding Rutherford ballad and ‘Another Record’ tails away after a splendidly atmospheric opening. The songs then were a mixed bag, which could perhaps be expected with the band members eager to experiment. The band indeed had sufficient material for a double album and I think that would have been a way to go to fully appreciate the breadth of material Genesis explored in the sessions. Of the tracks excluded from the album the poppy ‘Paperlate’ and romantic ‘You Might Recall’ were unlucky not to make the cut. ‘Naminanu’ and ‘Submarine’ are interesting instrumentals that were initially considered for a longer suite to be based around ‘Dodo/Lurker’. ‘Me and Virgil’ is the weakest song from the sessions – an unsuccessful attempt to emulate The Band’s western rock formula and containing one of Collins’ weakest lyrical contributions. Abacab is not the band’s best album, but it is perhaps their bravest and forty years on it stands up as a key moment in Genesis history.


GENESIS
ABACAB (Charisma, 18 September 1981) – Album Score – 72%
Tony Banks – keyboards
Phil Collins – drums, vocals
Mike Rutherford – guitars, basses
Additional musicians:
EWF Horns – horns on ‘No Reply at All’ (and ‘Paperlate’)
Thomas “Tom Tom 84” Washington – horn arrangement on ‘No Reply at All’ (and ‘Paperlate’)
Produced by Genesis
Engineered by Hugh Padgham
Recorded at The Farm, Surrey, March–June 1981
2006 remix by Nick Davis assisted by Tom Mitchell and Geoff Callingham
Album Cover by Bill Smith
Sleeve adaptation by Chris Payton for The Redroom

TRACK SCORES
1. Abacab (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (6:57) **** (A-side single 17/8/81)
2. No Reply at All (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (4:33) ***
3. Me and Sarah Jane (Banks) (6:02) ****
4. Keep it Dark (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (4:32) **** (A-side single 26/10/81)
5. Dodo/Lurker (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (7:31) *****
6. Who Dunnit? (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (3:24) **
7. Man on the Corner (Collins) (4:27) *** (A-side single 8/3/82)
8. Like it or Not (Rutherford) (4:58) ***
9. Another Record (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (4:38) *** (B-side to ‘Abacab’)

Non-album tracks:
1. Naminanu (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (3:54) *** (B-side to ‘Keep it Dark’)
2. Submarine (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (4:37) *** (B-side to ‘Man on the Corner’)
3. Paperlate (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (3:25) **** (‘3×3’ EP 17/5/82)
4. You Might Recall (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (5:35) **** (‘3×3’ EP)
5. Me and Virgil (Banks/Collins/Rutherford) (6:19) ** (‘3×3’ EP)

 

Music Review – ELECTRONIC: ELECTRONIC (1991)

Electronic | Music fanart | fanart.tvELECTRONIC
ELECTRONIC (LP, Factory Records, 27 May 1991, 52:29) – score 73%

Musicians: Bernard Sumner – vocals, keyboards and programming; Johnny Marr – guitars, keyboards and programming; Neil Tennant – vocals on “The Patience of a Saint” and backing vocals on “Getting Away with It”; Chris Lowe – keyboards on “The Patience of a Saint”; Donald Johnson – drums and percussion on “Tighten Up” and “Feel Every Beat”; David Palmer – drums on “Feel Every Beat” and “Getting Away with It”; Denise Johnson – vocals on “Get the Message”; Helen Powell – oboe on “Some Distant Memory”; Andrew Robinson – additional programming.
Producer: Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr; Engineer: Owen Morris; Mastered by Tim Young; Recorded at Clear Studios, Manchester, December 1989–early 1991.

Electronic was one of the most unusual partnerships of the 90s with New Order’s Bernard Sumner teaming with Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr to produce this hybrid of electronic synth and guitar based pop. The result was for the most part a success. Marr’s infectious “Shaft”-like wah-wah guitar riff coupled with Sumner’s melodic keyboard phrases on the opening “Idiot Country” demonstrate this is a marriage that can work. “Reality” is closer to Sumner’s trademark sound with its extensive programming, whilst the ebullient “Tighten Up” has more of a band feel. The Pet Shop Boys assist with “Patience of a Saint” and “Getting Away with It”, the former featuring Tennant’s lead vocals and Lowe’s lush keyboard textures and the latter (not on the original UK vinyl release) containing a longing chorus and an orchestral approach. “Gangster’s” stuttering programmed rhythms are complemented by Marr’s funky guitar, whilst “Soviet” is a lush and sombre instrumental with Oriental hints and provides a nice interlude before the album’s true classic. “Get the Message” is where the elements of Sumner and Marr’s talents merge to form a wonderful blend of acoustic guitar, insistent bass, subtle synthesizers and sublime melodies, aided by Denise Johnson’s soulful backing vocals. “Try All You Want” is perhaps the least distinguished song on the album feeling a little bit by-the-numbers and “Some Distant Memory” follows suit but is helped by the warming synth motifs in its closing moments. The album finishes strongly, however, with the experimental “Feel Every Beat”, which is perhaps the most exciting track musically with its shuffling bass and piano rhythm, funky guitar and singalong chorus. The production is expansive and full of 80s echo with a pleasing dynamic range. Sumner and Marr would record two more albums as Electronic but their debut retains its distinct charm despite its sound being frozen in time.

TRACK SCORES:
1. Idiot Country (Sumner/Marr) (5:02) ****
2. Reality (Sumner/Marr) (5:39) ***
3. Tighten Up (Sumner/Marr) (4:38) ****
4. Patience of a Saint (Sumner/Marr/Tennant/Lowe) (4:11) ****
5. Getting Away with It (Sumner/Marr/Tennant) (5:14) ****
6. Gangster (Sumner/Marr) (5:24) ***
7. Soviet (Sumner/Marr) (2:00) ***
8. Get the Message (Sumner/Marr) (5:20) *****
9. Try All You Want (Sumner/Marr) (5:37) **
10. Some Distant Memory (Sumner/Marr) (4:09) ***
11. Feel Every Beat (Sumner/Marr) (5:08) *****

THE MUSIC PRESS:
NME (David Quantic): “This is a pretty 1990s sort of a record, fresh as a daisy and wearing huge new oxblood Doc Martens” (****)
Q (Phil Sutcliffe): “Its strength is in conflict … The inexorable pounding of the beatbox versus the fragile sadness of Sumner’s voice and the he’s/she’s leaving stories; the symmetry of the synthesized or sampled sounds versus the sheer blood and bone physicality of Marr’s guitar”. (*****)
Vox (Keith Cameron): “Electronic is simply a 100 per cent pure distillation of Marr and Sumner’s respective talents. The hit single ‘Get the Message’ has it in a nutshell: it breaks no new ground; it simply achieves perfection.” (*****)
All Music Guide (Ned Raggett): “Both more and less than what a partnership of Sumner and Marr would promise, Electronic’s debut has weathered time much better than might have been thought upon its release, but ultimately only half works.” (****)

Music Review – DEL AMITRI: FATAL MISTAKES (2021)

Review: Del Amitri Avoided Making 'Fatal Mistakes' On New Album - American SongwriterDEL AMITRI
FATAL MISTAKES (CD, Cooking Vinyl, 28 May 2021, 45:52) – score 76%

Musicians: Andy Alston – keyboards; Justin Currie – vocals, bass; Kris Dollimore – guitar; Iain Harvie – guitar, backing vocals; Ash Soan – drums.
Producer: Dan Austin; Mixed by Dan Austin; Mastered by Paul McGeehan; Recorded at Vada studio, March 2020.

Fatal Mistakes is the Scottish band’s seventh studio album and their first since 2002’s experimental Can You Do Me Good? It is a distinct return to the band’s roots and all the better for it. Currie’s gift for marrying wistful melodies with his characteristically cynical lyrics is in evidence right from the chirpy album opener “You Can’t Go Back” and most evident on the infectiously catchy “It’s Feelings”. Elsewhere, “Musicians and Beer” weaves around its tribal rhythm and crashing electric guitar chords; “Close Your Eyes and Think of England” lyrically deals with Brexit; “Losing the Will to Die” and “I’m So Scared of Dying” demonstrate Currie’s dark humour as he comes to terms with his own mortality; “Otherwise” is a moody and reflective ballad with warm instrumentation; and “Nation of Caners”, by far the longest song, closes the album with its insistent bouncing rhythm building in intensity along with Currie’s angry lyrics. Instrumentally the songs are largely based around Harvie and Dollimore’s neat and unobtrusive guitar work and could have fitted on any of the band’s heyday albums. The collection is remarkably concise, with all but two songs clocking in under four minutes. This does, however, give the feeling on some songs that they have ended abruptly. The production has a low-fi quality that gives the songs an organic and intimate feel. On the whole a welcome return from a band playing to its strengths.

TRACK SCORES:
1. You Can’t Go Back (Currie) (2:53) ****
2. All Hail Blind Love (Currie/Harvey) (4:04) ***
3. Musicians and Beer (Currie) (2:46) ****
4. Close Your Eyes and Think of England (Currie) (3:30) ****
5. Losing the Will to Die (Currie) (2:34) ***
6. Otherwise (Currie) (3:01) ****
7. It’s Feelings (Currie/Harvey) (2:42) *****
8. I’m so Scared of Dying (Currie) (4:27) ****
9. Mockingbird, Copy Me Now (Currie/Dollimore) (2:23) ****
10. Missing Person (Currie) (3:19) ***
11. Second Staircase (Currie) (3:00) ***
12. Lonely (Currie/Harvey) (3:28) ****
13. Nation of Caners (Currie) (7:39) ****

THE MUSIC PRESS:
Mojo (Jim Farber): “The music swings again, even if Currie’s damning viewpoint hasn’t lightened.” (****)
Classic Rock Magazine: “While long-term fans might initially be disappointed by the marked absence of the bar-room swagger of yore, repeated listens bear fruit.” (****)
Telegraph (Neil McCormick): “Del Amitri’s bracing feel-bad pop-rock won’t be for everyone, but for those of us who appreciate sweet melodies set off with sour sentiments, it is perversely good to have the old curmudgeons back.” (****)
American Songwriter (Lee Zimmerman): “Fatal Mistakes reflects a duelling perspective, one that recognizes the difficulty of maintaining a certain standard but that is determined to reach new goals. The fact that Del Amitri succeed as well as they do is a testament to both their confidence and their talent.” (***½)

Music Review – MARILLION: MISPLACED CHILDHOOD (1985)

Misplaced Childhood (2017 Remaster): Amazon.co.uk: MusicMISPLACED CHILDHOOD (LP, EMI, 17 June 1985, 41:17) – score 82%
 
Musicians: Fish – vocals; Steve Rothery – guitars, additional bass; Pete Trewavas – bass; Mark Kelly – keyboards; Ian Mosley – drums, percussion
Producer: Chris Kimsey; Engineer: Thomas Stiehler; Mixing Engineer: Mark Freegard; Recorded at Hansa Tonstudio, Berlin, Germany, March – May 1985; UK Album Chart: 1; BPI Cert: Platinum (300,000+).

Marillion found their musical voice with their third studio album. It effectively splits the music into two inter-linked side-long (old LP terms) suites. Here the band have dispensed with trying to re-create the sounds of their heroes and have unearthed a musical palette that has a fresh sound and is creatively progressive. Fish’s lyrics recall the growing pains of youth, both figuratively and emotionally. His vocal delivery is less abrasive and more in tune with the music here and the marriage is a vast improvement on the first two albums. Rothery’s guitar has the sublime grace of Dave Gilmore along with the creative colouring of Steve Hackett; Mosley and Trewavas have merged into a propulsive rhythm section and Kelly’s keyboard textures are less showy and serve the songs admirably. MISPLACED CHILDHOOD would catapult the band from a cult following to a mainstream one, albeit for what would prove to be one more album before change was forced upon them.

Side 1:
1. Pseudo Silk Kimono (Fish, Kelly, Mosley, Rothery, Trewavas) (2:15) ***
A sinister keyboard refrain from Kelly opens the album. The piece acts as an atmospheric entrée to the album.
2. Kayleigh (Fish, Kelly, Mosley, Rothery, Trewavas) (4:04) ****
A song of regret surrounding a broken relationship, which became the band’s biggest hit single. It is a slick song with a strong melody that maybe suffered from overplay on the radio and is the track every non-Marillion fan associates with the band. Rothery’s mid-song solo is graceful and fluid. Released as a single on 7 May 1985 peaking at #2 in the UK singles chart.
3. Lavender (Fish, Kelly, Mosley, Rothery, Trewavas) (2:28) ****
A boy dreams of walking in the park and meeting a girl and falling instantly in love. The song riffs on the nursery rhyme “Lavender’s Blue” with a delightful singalong melody and soaring Rothery solo. Again, it shows the band could write with restraint. Released as a single on 27 August 1985 peaking at #5 in the UK singles chart.
4. Bitter Suite (Fish, Kelly, Rothery, Trewavas, Mosley) (7:53) ****
A series of short song vignettes opens with moody atmospherics as Rothery’s guitar weeps over a droning synth. The piece also highlights Fish’s penchant for spoken lyrics. The vignettes skilfully link short musical themes with a reprise of Rothery’s guitar refrain from “Lavender”.  The suite’s subtitles: i) “Brief Encounter”; ii) “Lost Weekend”; iii) “Blue Angel”; iv) “Misplaced Rendezvous”; and v) “Windswept Thumb” are all titles of old films.
5. Heart of Lothian (Fish, Kelly, Mosley, Rothery, Trewavas) (4:08) ****
A song of connection with your roots. It has a triumphant, celebratory and uplifting guitar figure and is delivered by Fish with vocal panache. Subtitles: i) “Wide Boy; ii) “Curtain Call”. Released as a single on 18 November 1985 peaking at #2 in the UK singles chart.
Side 2:
6. Waterhole (Expresso Bongo) (Fish, Kelly, Mosley, Rothery, Trewavas) (2:13) ***
A fast syncopated drum pattern from Mosley drives the opener to the second side with Kelly’s urgent repeated keyboard riff. Rothery’s guitar colours in the background.
7. Lords of the Backstage (Fish, Kelly, Mosley, Rothery, Trewavas) (1:53) ****
The rhythm changes to 7/8 and the band is perfectly in tune as the urgency is heightened in this short connecting section of music that leads seamlessly into the side’s centre-piece.
8. Blind Curve (Fish, Kelly, Mosley, Rothery, Trewavas) (9:30) *****
The pace slows to mid-tempo and the band get to demonstrate their instrumental prowess through some gorgeous, lilting melodies. Fish’s vocal delivery is nicely restrained and allows the music to breathe. This is the band’s strongest work top date and shows how they could piece different musical sections and tempos together to make for a dynamic whole. The theme of disillusionment is perfectly captured in the final section of the song before the mood changes as we merge into the following track. Subtitles: i) “Vocal Under a Bloodlight”; ii) “Passing Strangers”; iii) “Mylo”; iv) “Perimeter Walk”; v) “Threshold”.
9. Childhood’s End (Fish, Kelly, Mosley, Rothery, Trewavas) (4:33) ****
Rothery’s plucked guitar figure softens the mood before it abruptly picks up again as we switch from a reflection to revelation. The song’s title is a reference to the Arthur C. Clarke novel, which itself was a source of inspiration for Genesis’ “Watcher of the Skies”.
10. White Feather (Fish, Kelly, Mosley, Rothery, Trewavas) (2:24) ****
The album closer puffs out its chest with pride with its exultant cries of defiance. A wonderful close to a remarkably consistent album. The title reference is grounded in superstition relating to a plucked white game cock feather, which if placed in the clothing of a person marks them as a coward.

Single B-sides
1. Lady Nina (Fish, Kelly, Rothery, Trewavas, Mosley) (5:50) **
Inspired by German brother houses. This is the only song in which a drum machine was used for the final recording (the song loosens up when Mosley’s real drums enter). The song harks back to FUGAZI in its awkward marriage of rhythm and melody and Kelly’s showy approach to keyboards. B-side to “Kayleigh” released as a single on 7 May 1985.
2. Freaks (Fish, Kelly, Rothery, Trewavas, Mosley) (4:08) ***
Kelly’s repeated riff gives the song its foundation, whilst Rothery offers crashing guitar chords in this rocking song that fails to build on its promising opening but does increase in intensity in its closing moments.  B-side to “Lavender” released as a single on 27 August 1985.
3. Lavender Blue (Fish, Kelly, Rothery, Trewavas, Mosley) (4:23) ***
A different mix and longer version of “Lavender” which effectively brings different instrumentation to the fore through exclusion and emphasis. As such it draws attention to the instrumental changes rather than the winning melody. Included on the 12-inch single release of “Lavender” on 27 August 1985.

Music Review – MARILLION: FUGAZI (1984)

Fugazi [VINYL]: Amazon.co.uk: MusicFUGAZI (LP, EMI, 12 March 1984, 45:56) – score 61%

Musicians: Fish – vocals; Steve Rothery – guitars; Pete Trewavas – bass; Mark Kelly – keyboards; Ian Mosley – drums, percussion
Additional musicians: Linda Pyke – backing vocal (on “Incubus”); Chris Karen – additional percussion
Producer: Nick TauberEngineer/Mixing Engineer: Simon Hanhart; Recorded at various studios, November 1983 – February 1984; UK Album Chart: 5; BPI Cert: Gold (100,000+).

The inconsistent nature of Marillion’s second album was perhaps inevitable given the chaotic scheduling of the recordings and the revolving drum stool during the album’s conception. The band pushed for a more personal and distinctive sound without fully achieving their goal – mixing hard rock with progressive and pop overtones in a seeming effort to please all. Drummer, Ian Mosley proves to be a great addition to the band and over the years would form an excellent partnership with bassist Trewavas that makes some of their efforts here feel a little stiff rhythmically – likely due to both playing it a little safe. Fish’s lyrics tend toward the wordy and metaphorical showing a frustrated novelist. Rothery shows glimpses of the wonderful guitarist he was to become.

Side 1:
1. Assassing (Fish, Kelly, Rothery, Trewavas) (7:03) ****
Indian and African influences in the opening give way to more traditional driving rock tropes with jazz tinges, muscular bass and big musical statements, notably from Kelly’s keyboards and Rothery’s guitar synth. Inspired by their pagan surrounds in Wales during the writing. Released as a single on 30 April 1984 peaking at #22 in the UK singles chart.
2. Punch & Judy (Fish, Kelly, Rothery, Trewavas, Mover) (3:22) ***
A pacey keyboard riff and stuttering rhythm underline the lyrical use of the children’s violent puppetry as an allegory for the breakup of a marriage. Lacks substance but doesn’t outstay its welcome. Released as a single on 30 April 1984 peaking at #29 in the UK singles chart.
3. Jigsaw (Fish, Kelly, Rothery, Trewavas) (6:51) ***
The opening musical box sound introduces the band’s first power ballad with a big chorus. It is another lyrical allegory from Fish in that relationships can be like jigsaw puzzles with missing pieces and frustration. The song contains an elegant, gliding Rothery guitar solo, but rhythmically is a little static.
4. Emerald Lies (Fish, Kelly, Rothery, Trewavas, Mosley) (5:12) **
A song about jealousy and infidelity that begins like a hard rocker, before moving into a more delicate acoustic section. The song then runs through various musical sections alternating the heavy and the quiet. Overall though the song lacks its own distinctive character.
Side 2:
5. She Chameleon (Fish, Kelly, Rothery, Trewavas) (6:55) **
An atmospheric and hypnotic repeated organ phrase from Kelly runs intermittently through this tale of metaphoric chameleons. A mid-song keyboard solo serves little purpose as the song fails to gain momentum with its multi-sectioned approach, although once again Rothery shows how he was growing as a distinctive and sensitive guitarist with a short fluent solo.
6. Incubus (Fish, Kelly, Rothery, Trewavas) (8:32) ***
Fish stays on the subject of doomed relationships as the band play a menacing and atmospheric backing. The song is given room to stretch and breathe and weaves its way through short musical sections behind Fish’s wordy lyrics. Another fluent Rothery solo is again the highlight, and it leads into the kind of dramatic end section that would become a band trademark.
7. Fugazi (Fish, Kelly, Rothery, Trewavas) (8:03) ****
A cynical album closer based on the slang phrase used by US soldiers in Vietnam begins with a neat piano section from Kelly as Fish’s lyrical similes dig into our psyche. Echoes of Pink Floyd emerge as the song slowly builds momentum through its sonically creative mid-section, before playing out in anthemic style. The song showcased the band’s strengths and pointed the way forward.

Single B-sides
1. Cinderella Search (Fish, Kelly, Rothery, Trewavas, Mosley) (5:32) **
Another rhythmically stiff and undistinguished song, that tells of seeking out the opposite sex in nightclubs and bars. The music and lyrics fail to tie together and the song meanders through pieced together segments before gathering some momentum in its closing section. B-side to “Assassing” released as a single on 30 April 1984.

Notes:
– All individual tracks scored * to *****
– Album scored as a % based on individual track scores weighted by track length.

Music Review – MARILLION: SCRIPT FOR A JESTER’S TEAR (1983)

Script for a Jester's Tear (Deluxe Edition): Amazon.co.uk: MusicSCRIPT FOR A JESTER’S TEAR (LP, EMI, 13 March 1983, 46:45) – score: 64%

Musicians: Fish – vocals; Steve Rothery – guitars; Pete Trewavas – bass; Mark Kelly – keyboards; Mick Pointer – drums, percussion
Additional musicians: Marquee Club’s Parents Association Children’s Choir – choir (on “Forgotten Sons”); Peter Cockburn – newscaster’s voice (on “Forgotten Sons”)
Producer: Nick Tauber; Engineer/Mixing Engineer: Simon Hanhart; Recorded at The Marquee, London, December 1982 – February 1983; UK Album Chart: 7; BPI Cert: Platinum (300,000+).

Marillion deliver an assured debut LP with a growing confidence in their song-writing resulting in a reasonably consistent collection. The production is weak, however, lacking dynamic range and musically the rhythm section fails to jell successfully – with band founder member Mick Pointer’s drumming lacking personality and rhythmic drive (something that would be rectified for FUGAZI with Ian Mosley joining the band). Fish’s lyrics tend to be wordy and are often dense and overly-literate, but he does grapple with subjects of the modern-day grounding them with a post-punk conscience.

Side 1:
1. Script for a Jester’s Tear (Fish, Rothery, Trewavas, Pointer, Kelly) (8:40) ****  With lyrics grounded in a relationship break-up, the song weaves through various musical segments from the expansive to the quietly acoustic. More confident than the songs on their debut EP. Rothery and Kelly show their instrumental skills and ear for melody. It fades over its final lamenting appeal from Fish. Hampered only by Pointer’s robotic drumming.
2. He Knows You Know (Fish, Rothery, Trewavas, Kelly, Pointer, Minnitt, Jelliman) (5:23) ***  Hesitant, rhythmic song in which Fish sings of drug abuse over a wash of lush keyboards from Kelly who also provides a fluid mid-song solo. Tewavas’ stuttering bass lines give the song its underlying tension. Released as a single on 31 January 1983 peaking at #35 in the UK singles chart.
3. The Web (Fish, Trewavas, Kelly, Pointer, Rothery, Minnitt, Jelliman) (8:48) ***  Dense and highly literate psycho-analytical lyrics compete for attention with musical dynamics resulting in a promising, but ultimately not fully satisfying merger.
Side 2:
4. Garden Party (Fish, Kelly, Rothery, Trewavas, Pointer, Jelliman, Minnitt) (7:16) ***  With its stuttering rhythm prompted by Trewavas’ excellent bass work and complemented by Fish’s witty lyrics, which take a stab at social snobbery, this was an unexpected chart success for the band. Whilst it was relatively punchy and concise there were still rhythmic complexities within and an excellent Kelly keyboard solo that made it stand out on the radio. Released as a single on 6 June 1983 peaking at #16 in the UK singles chart.
5. Chelsea Monday (Fish, Rothery, Trewavas, Kelly, Pointer, Minnitt) (8:17) ****  The song that points the way forward for the band’s sound. It would become the template for their future approach with its ambient dynamics, Rothery’s clean guitar lines and Kelly’s lush keyboard backdrop.
6. Forgotten Sons (Fish, Rothery, Trewavas, Kelly, Pointer, Jelliman, Minnitt) (8:21) **  Fish goes political with his comments on the Irish situation and the associated victims of the violence. He delivers an angry and abrasive vocal over a musical backdrop that does not successfully marry with the lyrics.

Single B-sides (not on album)
1. Charting the Single (Fish, Rothery, Trewavas, Kelly, Pointer) (4:51) ***  An apt title for this simply structured song, which attempts to capture a new wave feel with its pulsing bass and repetitive chorus hook. The lyrical subject is the promiscuous rock and roll lifestyle. B-side to “He Knows You Know” released as a single on 31 January 1983.
2. Margaret (Traditional) (12:17) **  Fun combination of two traditional Scottish folk songs – “Mairi’s Wedding” and “Loch Lomond”. The song opens with a ghostly Rothery guitar figure, which along with his mid-song solo, is the only thing of recommendation here. Recorded live at the Edinburgh Playhouse, 7 April 1983 and used as the B-side to “Garden Party” released as a single on 6 June 1983.

Fish’s retirement album “Weltschmerz” – a career best

I recently bought one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long while. Fish’s double album “Weltschmerz“, released at the back end of last year, is an extremely personal set of songs and is a stunning collection both musically and lyrically. It’s his retirement album and every song makes an emotional connection. I was alerted to the album when I came across the promo video for the song “Garden of Remembrance”, which deals with the subject of dementia, told from Fish’s own experience with his father. It is one of the most heartfelt songs I have ever heard with its stark piano arrangement and deep-felt lyrics.

The album itself mixes the quirky (“Man with a Stick”, “This Party’s Over”) and the epic (“Rose of Damascus”, “Waverley Steps”) with melodies and lyrics that stay with you long after. The songs deal with health issues, something Fish has suffered more than his share of in recent years, the ageing process, changes in the way we live and the world itself. From the opener “Grace of God” through to the closing title track every song is a gem.  It is a stunning achievement for a 62-year-old.

Weltschmerz
/ˈvɛltˌʃmɛːts,German ˈvɛltˌʃmɛrts/
noun
a feeling of melancholy and world-weariness.

Track Listing:
CD1
The Grace of God 8.15
Man with a Stick 6.30
Walking on Eggshells 7.15
This Party’s Over 4.23
Rose of Damascus 15.43

CD2
Garden of Remembrance 6.04
C Song (The Trondheim Waltz) 4.41
Little Man What Now 10.53
Waverley Steps (End of the Line) 13.48
Weltschmerz 6.45

Released: 25th September 2020
Label: Chocolate Frog

Albums worth revisiting #1 – THE MOODY BLUES: LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER

THE MOODY BLUES
LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER ****
MoodyBluesLongDistanceVoyager.jpgReleased: 15 May 1981
Label: Threshold
Recorded at Threshold Studios and RAK Studios, London, 19 February 1980 – 14 April 1981.
Produced by Pip Williams
Engineered by Greg Jackman
UK Chart: #7; US Chart: #1.
Justin Hayward – lead vocals (1,3,4,5,6) backing vocals, guitars; John Lodge – lead vocals (2,3,6,7), backing vocals, bass guitar; Ray Thomas – lead vocals (6,8,10), backing vocals, flute, harmonica; Graeme Edge – drums; Patrick Moraz – keyboards; Dave Symonds – narrator (9); The New World Philharmonic – string section
Track List:

    1. The Voice (Hayward) – (5:21) **** (US #15)
    2. Talking Out of Turn (Lodge) – (7:18) **** (US #65)
    3. Gemini Dream (Hayward, Lodge) – (4:09) ***** (US #12)
    4. In My World (Hayward) – (7:22) *****
    5. Meanwhile (Hayward) – (4:08) ****
    6. 22,000 Days (Edge) – (5:25) ***
    7. Nervous (Lodge) – (5:45) ****
    8. Painted Smile (Thomas) – (3:18) / Reflective Smile (Thomas) – (0:36) / Veteran Cosmic Rocker (Thomas) – (3:18) ***

The Moody Blues are best known today for their 1967 mega-ballad “Nights in White Satin”, although they had a UK #1 with their second single “Go Now” back in 1964. By 1981, in the post-punk/new wave era, the band had come to be viewed as something of an anachronism with its penchant for gentle acoustic and orchestral arrangements at odds with the more simplistic and electric approach being championed by the days’ top bands. Indeed, the Moodies had only released one new studio album since 1972, that being 1978’s OCTAVE, which had been largely undistinguished, despite hitting #5 in the UK album chart. This made LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER, released three years later, all the more surprising for its consistently high quality of songwriting and updated sound. The album heralded the arrival of former Yes-man Patrick Moraz on keyboards to replace founder member Mike Pinder. The result was a more modern approach, whilst still retaining the trademarks of gorgeous acoustic guitar arrangements and sympathetic orchestration. The most impressive aspect though was the quality of the songs.

The album opener, “The Voice”, begins with an atmospheric synth refrain from Moraz before launching into an up-tempo acoustic guitar-driven song typical of Hayward. The listener can lose themselves in the lilting harmonies and melodies of “Talking Out of Turn” and the wonderfully glowing ballad “In My World” – possibly Hayward’s best since “Nights in White Satin”. These two songs have extended sections that may seem a little self-indulgent but are not unwelcome because they transport you into their world with a warm glow in your heart. “Gemini Dream” channels Jeff Lynne and ELO extremely effectively with its bouncing synth lines and melodic hook make it the catchiest tune on the album.  “Meanwhile” is another winner of a ballad, more up-tempo this time with a prodding bass line. “22,00 Days” opens like a Pink Floyd mid-tempo rocker with its pounding rhythm and has a big chorus. “Nervous” is another strong melodic mid-tempo tune with slide guitar and heavy orchestration that again echoes ELO. The album’s three-part closer is perhaps the only misstep with its eccentric mix of music hall, eastern melodies and bombastic rock at odds with the more graceful music that precedes it. This was no doubt the intention and on a good day, Thomas’ quirky mini-opera of court jesters and backstage antics can raise a smile through its sheer impudence.

LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER was to be The Moody Blues’ last top 10 album in the UK. It may sound a little dated today production-wise, but so does much of the music from the 1980s and here it is the songs that shine through with a warming glow.

Don’t just take my word for it:

 “Progressive rock bands stumbled into the ’80s, some with the crutch of commercial concessions under one arm, which makes the Moody Blues’ elegant entrance via LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER all the more impressive.” – Dave Connolly, All Music Guide

“LONG DISTANCE VOYAGER is one of the most seamlessly embroidered records I’ve ever heard. The Moody Blues’ musical canon doesn’t always go boom, but it’s dignified, eloquent and, like good sherry, should warm the hearts of their veteran cosmic fans–and any others who choose to listen with fresh ears.” – Parke Puerbaugh, Rolling Stone

Music Review – MIKE + THE MECHANICS: OUT OF THE BLUE (2019)

Mike + The Mechanics
Out of the Blue (2019) ***

Image result for mike + the mechanics out of the blueMike Rutherford – Guitar, Bass, Drum Programming
Andrew Roachford – Vocals, Keyboards
Tim Howar – Vocals
Anthony Drennan – Lead Guitar, Bass
Gary Wallis – Drums
Luke Juby – Keyboards, Backing Vocals

Clark Datchler – Keyboards (3)
Paul Meehan – Keyboards and Programming (1 & 2)
Priscilla Jones-Campbell, Bryon Jones, James Thompson, Joy Malcolm – Choir (4)

Produced by Mike Rutherford and Paul Meehan
Recorded at The Farm Sand Drungewick Studios by Harry Rutherford
Mixed by Mike Rutherford and Nick Davis
Matered by 360 Mastering

TRACKS:
New songs:
1 One Way (Rutherford/Roachford/Datchler) ****
Strong opener with a classy chorus and wonderful vocal from Roachford. The best of the three new songs on the album.
Out of the Blue (Rutherford/Roachford/Datchler) ***
Typical Mechanics sound with a neat arrangement and sturdy chorus, but just doesn’t stand out as having anything new to offer
What Would You Do (Rutherford/Roachford/Datchler) **
The programmed intro is reminiscent of the failed Rewired experiment. Pleasant enough, but again lacks any distinguishing elements.
Re-recordings:
The Living Years (Rutherford/Robertson) ****
The band’s best-remembered song is still an affecting ballad, delivered here with a soulful interpretation by Roachford. The acoustic arrangement on the bonus disc gives a different arrangement and perhaps more heart-wrenching vocal from Roachford.
Beggar on a Beach of Gold (Rutherford/Robertson)) ***
Tim Howar may lack Paul Young’s range but there is an energy to his performance of this classic Mechanics track.
Get Up (Rutherford/Carrack) ****
Probably the only one of these recordings to actually improve on the original.
Another Cup of Coffee (Rutherford/Neil) ***
Almost a carbon-copy of the original but Carrack’s version cannot be bettered.
All I Need is a MIracle (Rutherford/Neil) ***
Again Howar energetically takes on a song that Paul Young made his own both on record and live. A good effort.
Silent Running (Rutherford/Robertson) **
Minus the atmospheric introduction, this pales in comparison to the original. Roachford’s soulful vocal interpretation is solid.
10 Over My Shoulder (Rutherford/Datchler/Howar) ∗∗∗
Like “Another Cup of Coffee”, this treads the same path as the original down to the whistled chorus. Adds nothing new.
11 Word of Mouth (Rutherford/Neil) ****
Has the live feel of the original and is again sung with passion by Howar. Enjoyable closing rocker.

Mike + The Mechanics’ ninth album is a strange concept mixing three new songs with eight re-recordings of old favourites that are a staple of the band’s live set.  The new songs are passable but lack the freshness of most of the songs on Let Me Fly. The decision to re-record some old favourites to make up the bulk of the album is a bold move. Unfortunately, most of these re-recordings merely restate the live arrangement and are therefore largely redundant. Why not just release a live album? The only real purpose would be to support the re-invention of the band, which has been touring successfully in this new combination for the last eight years, and prove to listeners the new line-up can handle the old material – which it can.  The deluxe version of the album has a second CD with six lo-fi acoustic recordings including a wonderfully evocative piano-led arrangement of “The Living Years” sung with real emotion by Roachford.

Music Review – MIKE + THE MECHANICS – LET ME FLY (2017)

Mike + The Mechanics
Let Me Fly (2017) ∗∗∗∗

Mike Rutherford – Guitar, Bass, Drum Programming
Andrew Roachford – Vocals, Keyboards
Tim Howar – Vocals
Gary Wallis – Drums
Luke Juby – Keyboards
Anthony Drennan – Guitar

Clark Datchler – Piano (5, 6 & 9)
Zak Kemp – Drum Programming (5 & 6)
Patrick Mascall – Drum Programming (8 & 11)
Let Me Fly Choir (1)

Tracks 1-6 Produced by Mike Rutherford, Brian Rawling and Paul Meehan
Tracks 7, 9, 10 and 12 Produced by Harry Rutherford and Mike Rutherford
Tracks 8 and 11 Produced by Mark Taylor and Mike Rutherford
Recorded at The Farm Studios, Metrophonic Studios & Mike’s Home Studio

TRACKS:
1  Let Me Fly (Rutherford/Datchler/Roachford) ∗∗∗∗∗
Classic Mechanics. Uplifting anthemic chorus heightened by gospel choir and Roachford’s soulful vocal.
2 Are You Ready? (Rutherford/Datchler/Howar) ∗∗∗∗
Up-tempo rock number with a catchy chorus and moody middle-eight.
3 Wonder (Rutherford/Datchler/Roachford) ∗∗∗∗
Piano based mid-tempo song reminiscent of Don Henley/Bruce Hornsby. Its gliding groove gets under the skin.
4 The Best is Yet to Come (Rutherford/Datchler) ∗∗∗
Poppiest song on the album. Selected as the second single.
5 Save the World (Rutherford/Datchler/Roachford) ∗∗∗∗
Heartfelt ballad delivered with real passion by Roachford.
6 Don’t Know What Came Over Me (Rutherford/Datchler/Roachford) ∗∗∗∗
First single has a chorus that stays with you.
7 High Life (Rutherford/Drewett) ∗∗∗
Nice little understated diversion with a delicate vocal from Howar.
8 The Letter (Rutherford/Taylor/Mascall/Datchler/Roachford) ∗∗∗∗∗
Great repeated riff from Rutherford and a more complex structure with room for a brief guitar solo. Along with the title track the strongest cut. Reminiscent of Silent Running.
9 Not Out of Love (Rutherford/Roachford/Howar) ∗∗
The least successful song on the album is a mid-tempo chugger lacking a strong hook.
10 Love Left Over (Rutherford/Datchler/Howar) ∗∗∗∗
Gorgeous ballad showing Howar can deliver a soulful vocal as well as out and out rock. A real grower.
11 I’ll Be There for You (Rutherford/Taylor/Mascall/Roachford) ∗∗∗
Another of the poppier songs on the album. It has a more modern programmed sound.
12 Save My Soul (Rutherford/Roachford/Thorneycroft-Smith) ∗∗∗
Low-key finish to the album with lush keyboards underpinning a soulful delivery from Roachford. Moody guitar adds to the late evening feel.

Mike + The Mechanics’ eighth album in a career spanning 32 years is the band’s best since Beggar on a Beach of Gold back in 1995.  Singers Andrew Roachford and Tim Howar return, having appeared on the band’s previous album The Road (2011), which had been an inconsistent affair with the new band trying to find its feet. Here, after intervening years of touring, the band is more relaxed and the quality of the songs is stronger. There are echoes of earlier Mechanics albums in some of the tracks – a deliberate move by Rutherford to recapture the sound of those early days. The album shows the band still has much to offer and Rutherford is a writer of well-crafted, classy songs.