Hugh Cornwell – Monster

28 09 2018

monster300Monster is an album telling the tales of heroes (including Hugh’s mother and from the music world, Lou Reed & Jimmy Webb) as well as villains (Robert Mugabe and Mussolini) of the 20th Century.

Monster differs from previous releases in that this album is the nearest thing to a pure Hugh Cornwell solo studio album. Hugh produces the album as well as providing all the guitars, bass and vocals, with the only other musicians being Katie Elliot adding recorder to Duce Coochie Man and album engineer Phil Andrews assisting Hugh with the drum programming.

Monster opens with Pure Evel. Summoning the sound of early Dr Feelgood, and drenched in gasoline and leather, this is the story of motorcycle stuntman and 70s superstar from the USA, Evel Knievel.

“I’m the last gladiator in the new Rome”

Tight, dirty and with raw lead vocals, this is a great start to the album and really captures the feel of its subject, an often (literally) broken star.

La Grande Dame is the first of two Velvet Undergound influenced tracks. An affectionate song about Winifred Cornwell, who lived to the age of 98 and swam every day, no matter the weather. Uncharacteristically bluesey guitar lines adorn this homage to Hugh’s mother.

Hedy Lamarr is celebrated for both her beauty and her brains in The Most Beautiful Girl in Hollywood. It’s a little known fact that Lamarr helped develop a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes at the beginning of World War II, and that the principles of this work are incorporated into modern Bluetooth technology. A delicious rumbling bass-line underpins the sparkling verse and clever wordplay.

A typically infectious double Cornwell chorus will ensure The Most Beautiful Girl in Hollywood sticks in your head long after the song finishes.

The heroes continue with Hugh’s tip of the hat to one of his longest serving musical idols, the American jazz and blues pianist, singer, and songwriter Mose Allison. Allison influenced musicians beyond the jazz genre – The Clash covered Look Here on Sandinista! in 1980 and The Pixies celebrated his work on the Bossanova album. Hugh’s tribute Mosin’ has a hot and sticky New Orleans rhythm and blues vibe running through its veins.

Mr. Leather is the story of an aborted meeting (due to illness) between Lou Reed and Hugh in NYC shortly before Reed’s death. The song doubles up as a love letter to New York as much as to the music of Reed and The Velvet Underground.

The King of Chutzpa Phil Silvers and his comic character Bilko is the next hero. Bilko features playful lyrics and wonderful, unexpected changes of pace, in one of the album’s highlights.

Our first villain appears in the form of Robert (Mugabe). Written and recorded before Mugabe was ousted from power in a coup in late 2017, the song references the land seizures and the decline and fall of a despot.

The album’s title track pays tribute to the work of Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop-motion model animation, who was known for his work on The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, One Million Years B.C. and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. George Lucas said “Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no Star Wars”.

Monster has a warm 1960’s feel, and reminds me of another Ray, Ray Davies of The Kinks. The title track, and indeed half of the songs on the album, come in at just over the three minute mark – the perfect pop song length, always leaving you wanting more.

My favourite two songs on the album are the final two tracks. Attack of the Major Sevens opens with a gorgeous sounding acoustic (I’m not sure if this is a Martin acoustic guitar) riff and musically references Arthur Lee (Love), Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds and the song-writing titan Jimmy Webb.

Attack of the Major Sevens is a heavily nostalgic perfect pop song. Oh, and why limit yourself to one chorus, when you can have two? The backing vocals and textures lift this song to another level, as the Californian psychedelia and stream of consciousness lyrics tumble out at pace.

The album ends with Duce Coochie Man. When I first heard this song, the darkest track on the album, I wrote in my notes “Nosferatu meets The Pretty Things via Cream”. And I stand by that. It reminds me of some of the great classic rock songs from the early 70s (one of my favourite eras).

Duce Coochie Man features my favourite vocal performance on the album and is a track where the subject is not immediately obvious, but when you realise the identity of the villain, someone who was left “Hanging Around” in the end – sorry for the poor taste pun, it is even sweeter. The arrangement, especially the drum pattern and the wild outro, complete with twisted recorder linesq, is a joy to listen to.

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Monster is a lyrically strong and musically adventurous yet cohesive album – and it sounds amazing on vinyl, with the volume cranked up.

The second disc is a collection of re-recorded acoustic versions of Stranglers songs, titled Restoration. The strengths of the songs, in these sparse, stripped back to the core takes, shines through. Some of the arrangements you will be familiar with from Hugh’s solo acoustic shows over recent years. Subtle overdubs, mainly percussion and backing vocals, have been added.

Black and White‘s Outside Tokyo remains chilling in this incarnation, even stripped of the keyboards, drums and bass. Aural Sculpture‘s Let Me Down Easy is another highlight, and is one of the fuller arrangements, with slow-building layer upon layer of vocals and piano as the song heads to its conclusion.

A moving reinterpretation of Souls features Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson on flute. One of the biggest surprises is Don’t Bring Harry, which originally appeared on 1979’s The Raven, and was sung by JJ Burnel.

“Harry likes to play all night, I’ll do what Harry says”

This fresh arrangement will probably result in you falling in love with this song all over again.

Goodbye Toulouse has an added layer of heartbreak, shorn of the new wave aggression found in the original 1977 version.

Ships That Pass In The Night, originally from Feline (1983) is the second song to feature Ian Anderson, and remains faithful to the original arrangement, as does it’s (blue) sister song Never Say Goodbye.

No More Heroes features raw and distorted guitar, but will always work best for me with a full electric version. Big in America lends itself to this Americana (americanUUUR) arrangement, as does the album closer, Always The Sun.

It’s refreshing to hear these fresh interpretations of some classic Stranglers songs, and Restoration is a good value addition to the double Monster package.

Monster is released on October 5th through Sony Music.

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Buy Monster on CD from Amazon

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Tracklisting:

Monster

Pure Evel
La Grande Dame
The Most Beautiful Girl in Hollywood
Mosin’
Mr. Leather
Bilko
Robert
Monster
Attack of the Major Sevens
Duce Coochie Man

Restoration

Outside Tokyo
Let Me Down Easy
Souls
Don’t Bring Harry
Goodbye Toulouse
Ships That Pass In The Night
Never Say Goodbye
No More Heroes
Big in America
Always The Sun





Tim Bowness – Lost In The Ghost Light

14 01 2017

Lost In The Ghost LightLost In The Ghost Light is the fourth solo album from Tim Bowness (no-man / Henry Fool).

Lost In The Ghost Light is a concept album revolving around the onstage and backstage reflections of a ‘classic’ rock musician (Jeff Harrison of the band Moonshot).

Joining Tim on the album are Stephen Bennett (Henry Fool), Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree), Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief), Hux Nettermalm (Paatos), Andrew Booker (Sanguine Hum), and guest appearances from Kit Watkins (Happy The Man/Camel), Steve Bingham (no-man), David Rhodes (Peter Gabriel / Kate Bush), Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) and Andrew Keeling (Robert Fripp/Hilliard Ensemble/Evelyn Glennie) arranging for string quartet and flute on three of the album’s songs.

Tim’s new album, as well as being a concept album, with a very clear theme, is also musically his most cohesive release.  His most recent solo albums, Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and Stupid Things That Mean The World have both appealed to those who love progressive music. But if you are a fan of classic, first generation as well as modern prog, Lost In The Ghost Light will more than likely tick all the boxes for you. Musically, this album draws from the spirit of experimentation of the late 60s and early 70s, whilst keeping the Bowness musical identity intact.

I think its safe to say that Lost In The Ghost Light is an album that will be getting a ton of love from the (recently saved) Prog magazine, and will be appearing in a lot of reviewers end of year favourites lists.

Worlds Of Yesterday sets the scene with a backing of warm arpeggio acoustic guitar, some fascinating fretless bass and mid-70s keyboards / organs. The end section is wonderful, with flute (from Kit Watkins) and Bruce Soord‘s soaring guitar building up to a final 30 seconds that will surely melt your prog-filled heart.

Moonshot Manchild – well, Phil Collins would kill to have that feeling again. The piano and strings in the verse are solid-gold solo Collins, whilst the chorus and instrumental sections are unadulterated pre-80s Genesis.

“The days are long when you’re not working”

One of the most rewarding aspects of Lost In The Ghost Light is the multitude of instrumental passages, and Moonshot Manchild is one of the main beneficiaries of this freedom to explore the boundaries of the songs. I expect this song to be a possible Prog anthem of the year.

“You’re wearing the styles of your age.
 A slave to the whims of a phase, 
You dreamt of eternity’s gaze,
Now you’re running out of time.”

David Rhodes (Peter Gabriel / Kate Bush) and Mr Pineapple Thief handle guitar duties on Kill The Pain That’s Killing You, the albums least proggy track. It’s more akin to the sound of Tim’s previous albums, with a hint of no-man thrown in for good measure, so its obviously an album highlight for me!

Mid-way through the album, we have what I consider to be the albums jewel in the crown. Nowhere Good To Go is a delicious Bowness ballad, one that’s so good that it could easily be a song from no-man‘s Returning Jesus. It’s quite simply one of Bowness’s best songs.

An ever evolving arrangement keeps the song fresh, even after repeated plays. The moving lyric and vocals stay constant throughout the song, as the arrangement gets increasingly prog-flavoured towards the end. Nowhere Good To Go is a finely layered song, but underpinning the arrangement and the emotional performances is a beautiful and painfully sad story of the loneliness of the touring musician who is long out of touch and now forever out of time.

“The theatre’s deserted,
And there’s nowhere good to go.”

You’ll Be The Silence is one of the albums longest tracks, which gives the song time to build and explore.

“You caught the music of the moment by accident.
You caught the moments in the music by chance.”

A song of regret as the albums protagonist watches his band become largely irrelevant as the industry moves on and leaves him behind. Where would a band as out-of-time as Jeff Harrison‘s Moonshot fit into these days of a down-sized music industry, with no more excess and huge physical album sales? An industry moving toward streaming as the norm? I suppose they would say their new album is a return to their halcyon days and hope for reviews of the “best since Scary Monsters” variety.

“You went on stage together,
But you failed to find the art.”

Lost In The Ghost Light is filled with remarkable individual performances – Stephen Bennett hits a career best on the album in my opinion. Colin Edwin also gives some fine performances, the highlight being a moving bass harmonics solo on You’ll Be The Silence.

Tim Bowness

The Bowness production / arrangment and the usual high-quality mix and mastering by Steven Wilson need to be recognised in  reviews of the album. The way the Univox SR-55 drum machine slips seamlessly in and out of the percussion arrangement on You’ll Be The Silence is a joy to hear. A tip of the hat must also go to Bruce Soord, who delivers a passionate solo in the outro that David Gilmour would be proud to call his own.

The album’s title track is pure no-man – glitchy electronics and a treated vocal that recalls the darkness of no-man’s Bleed or the Wild Opera period. The lyrics see our man Jeff questioning the relevancy of his music and whether there will be more, or whether he will remain on the soul-destroying roundabout of the nostalgia circuit.

You Wanted To Be Seen continues the questioning and self doubt, with a backing that recalls Fragile era Yes with a pinch of Pink Floyd added for good measure.

I love Andrew Booker‘s performance on this track, which works so well with Bruce Soord‘s multi-layered guitar. It reminds me a little of late period Porcupine Tree in it’s intensity.

The album ends with Distant Summers, with Colin Edwin giving it some Danny Thompson on the double bass, and a stunning flute solo from Ian Anderson. Tim delivers one of his most emotional vocal performances on Distant Summers, and I hear echoes of early Kate Bush in the piano / bass interplay and string arrangement.

“Third on the left,
A monster and a mess,
Back in the days that you still love the best.”

A couple of years  have passed since the last Bowness album, but the wait was definitely worth it. Lost In The Ghost Light is a rewarding album that reveals new details on each play. I cannot wait to hear what people think of this album, as for me, its the best Bowness album to date.

5.1 mixes on the CD/DVD version

The 5.1 mixes by Bruce Soord of Lost in the Ghost Light and Stupid Things That Mean The World make up the DVD section of the double-disc version.

Lots of new details come to the fore in the 5.1 mixes. The vocal harmonies in Worlds of Yesterday and the piano on Moonshot Manchild are much more prominent in the 5.1 mix.

My favourite track on the album, Nowhere Good to Go, sounds amazing in this mix, with a lovely separation between the synth and the lush acoustic strings. Old school Genesis fans with love the synth lines that really stand out in this version.

The arrangement on You’ll Be The Silence is stunning heard through a 5.1 set-up. The album’s short title track sounds very different, with hidden, competing electronica making for a disturbing experience.

Another album highlight, You Wanted To Be Seen, has to be heard at volume to be appreciated fully.  The violin parts sit beautifully in Distant Summers, as does Ian Anderson’s solo.

I forgot to download (doh!) the 5.1 mix of Stupid Things That Mean The World that came as a pre-order bonus when the album was originally released, so this was my first listen to the album in 5.1. Just like Lost In The Ghost Light, new details emerge in the 5.1 mix of this album. Having the two 5.1 mixes adds real value to this package.

The first track that really stands out is Where You’ve Always Been – there is a lovely clarity in the individual performances, and it was a joy to get re-acquainted with one of the most underrated Bowness songs.

Know That You Were Loved works so well in 5.1 – no fancy tricks, no panning effects, just the power of an emotionally direct song in extremely high audio quality.

Press Reset is the real highlight of the 5.1 mixes for me. The bass notes cut through the mix, and oh man, when the heavy percussion and bass kicks in, it sends shivers every time.

“This is the day you’ll disappear”

The neighbours will be having words with me, as I have to crank up the volume on this track.

Everything You’re Not also reveals more detail of the unusual harmonies that go so well with the nostalgic strings and brass.

The short but certainly not sweet Soft William also takes on a new lease of life in this mix. Album closer At The End Of The Holiday reveals its powerful melancholy in 5.1. An emotional string intro leads to a moving arrangement, with brutal lyrics, and a proggy organ solo that almost act as a precursor to where Bowness would venture next with his new album, Lost In The Ghost Light.

Artwork

My initial review was from a digital copy of the album. Now I’ve got my physical copies – vinyl and CD/DVD – a special mention of the albums wonderful artwork is warranted. Tim has worked with Jarrod Gosling to flesh out the story of Jeff Harrison and his band Moonshot, whose story runs through Lost In The Ghost Light.

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The album cover works as a perfect scene-setting statement, and really should be experienced in its full-size vinyl format. The gatefold sleeve (part of which is shown above) is stunning – with Moonshot vinyl, singles, vhs, CD and cassette artwork. The £1.99 sticker on the Moonshot Live at the Rainbow cassette raises a smile every time I see it.

Buy the album

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Lost In The Ghost Light – vinyl


Lost In The Ghost Light – CD/DVD

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