News: Steven Wilson Presents: Intrigue – Progressive Sounds In UK Alternative Music 1979–89

2 11 2022

Steven Wilson Presents: Intrigue – Progressive Sounds In UK Alternative Music 1979–89 is a CD and vinyl compilation.

Steven Wilson Presents: Intrigue - Progressive Sounds In UK Alternative Music 1979–89 alum cover


The 4 CD version has 58 tracks exploring the creativity and progressive spirit of alternative British music from 1979-1989 featuring Wire, XTC, The Cure, Tears For Fears and Kate Bush. The CD and 7 LP versions include an expanded booklet (80 pages for the CD / 40 pages for the 7 LP) with extensive liner notes by James Nice and an introduction from Steven Wilson. The 2 LP version has a 12 page booklet.

The compilation was mastered by Phil Kinrade at AIR Mastering.

I presume that the idea for this compilation came from Steven Wilson & Tim Bowness’s successful, and always entertaining, The Album Years podcast. Its refreshing to see a compilation digging a little deeper, and avoiding the obvious hit singles.

Personal highlights for me include A Better Home in the Phantom Zone from Bill Nelson’s Red Noise, one of my favourite tracks from The Stranglers (the title track from their 1979 prog-punk masterpiece The Raven), Astradyne from Ultravox (here in its Steven Wilson Stereo Mix version), along with tracks from Tony Mansfield’s New Musik, post-Ultravox John Foxx, and the Associates.

Steven Wilson Presents: Intrigue - Progressive Sounds In UK Alternative Music 1979–89 - 4 CD

Kudos to Mr Wilson for including the extended version of I Travel from Simple Minds and the rarely celebrated Sealand by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark from their wonderful Architecture & Morality album from 1981.

SW has also chosen a couple of less obvious choices from some of the eras big-hitters – Talking Drum from Japan, Faith by the Cure, Tears for Fears Memories Fade, the sublime Brilliant Trees by David Sylvian, and Waking the Witch from Kate Bush, in its first appearance on a compilation to my knowledge.

There are also several tracks from artists who I hope can receive more attention following this collections release – namely the haunting Airwaves from Thomas Dolby’s debut album, the epic Dream Within a Dream from Propaganda, Ivy and Neet by This Mortal Coil (their trilogy is a highlight from the 80s) and a band that have given me so much pleasure over the years, Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness’s no-man with Night Sky, Sweet Earth.

Steven Wilson Presents: Intrigue - Progressive Sounds In UK Alternative Music 1979–89 - 2 LP

“This is my personally-curated attempt to redress the balance, and to perhaps introduce any ‘80s-sceptics out there to the idea that conceptual thinking and ambition didn’t suddenly evaporate after ’77… ambitious, weird and thrilling music was all around you in the ‘80s —if you looked in the right places.” 

Steven Wilson

Buy the 4 CD version of Steven Wilson Presents: Intrigue on Amazon
Buy the 2 LP vinyl version of Steven Wilson Presents: Intrigue from Amazon
Buy the 7 LP vinyl version of Steven Wilson Presents: Intrigue from Amazon

4 CD Tracklisting

Disc: 1

I Should Have Known Better – Wire
A Better Home in the Phantom Zone – Bill Nelson’s Red Noise
Back to Nature – Magazine
Complicated Game (Steven Wilson 2014 Mix) – XTC
Careering – Public Image Limited
The Raven – the Stranglers
Puppet Life – Punishment of Luxury
Astradyne (Steven Wilson Stereo Mix) – Ultravox
Contract – Gang of Four
I Travel (Extended Version) – Simple Minds
Sketch for Summer – the Durutti Column
Health and Efficiency – This Heat
Burning Car – John Foxx
Cognitive Dissonance (Steven Wilson 2022 Mix) – Robert Fripp and the League of Gentlemen
Fatal Day – In Camera

Disc: 2

I Can’t Escape Myself – The Sound
The Eternal – Joy Division
Big Empty Field – Swell Maps
Enemies – Art Nouveau
The Joy Circuit – Gary Numan
The Gospel Comes to New Guinea – 23 Skidoo
All My Colours – Echo and the Bunnymen
Ghost Town (Extended Version) – The Specials
They All Run After the Carving Knife – New Musik
The Him – New Order
White Car in Germany (Single Edit) – The Associates
Hit – Section 25
Sealand – Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Talking Drum – Japan
Faith – the Cure

Disc: 3

Three Dancers (Steven Wilson 2021 Mix) – Twelfth Night
Airwaves – Thomas Dolby
Are You Ready? – Crispy Ambulance
The Outsider – Rupert Hine
Knife Slits Water – A Certain Ratio
Memories Fade – Tears for Fears
Patient – Peter Hammill
Donimo – Cocteau Twins
In a Waiting Room – Mr and Mrs Smith and Mr Drake
Close (To the Edit) – The Art of Noise
Dalis Car – Dalis Car
Rawhide – Scott Walker
Brilliant Trees – David Sylvian
Dream Within a Dream – Propaganda

Disc: 4

Waking the Witch – Kate Bush
Ivy and Neet – This Mortal Coil
Beehead (7″ Version) – Perennial Divide
This Corrosion – The Sisters of Mercy
Ascension – O Yuki Conjugate
No Motion – Dif Juz
Gutter Busting – Slab!
Murderers, the Hope of Women – Momus
The Host of Seraphim – Dead Can Dance
R.E.S. – Cardiacs
Good Morning Beautiful – The The
Omega Amigo – The Shamen
Night Sky, Sweet Earth – No-Man
The 3rd Time We Opened the Capsule – Kitchens of Distinction

Buy the 4 CD version of Steven Wilson Presents: Intrigue on Amazon

2 LP vinyl Tracklisting

Disc: 1

A Better Home in the Phantom Zone – Bill Nelson’s Red Noise
Back to Nature – Magazine
Complicated Game (Steven Wilson 2014 Mix) – XTC
The Raven – The Stranglers
Puppet Life – Punishment of Luxury
Astradyne (Steven Wilson Stereo Mix) – Ultravox
Sketch for Summer – The Durutti Column
Health and Efficiency – This Heat
Cognitive Dissonance (Steven Wilson 2022 Mix) – Robert Fripp and the League of Gentlemen
Three Dancers (Steven Wilson 2021 Mix) – Twelfth Night

Disc: 2

Airwaves – Thomas Dolby
Knife Slits Water – a Certain Ratio
Donimo – Cocteau Twins
Beehead (7″ Version) – Perennial Divide
No Motion – Dif Juz
Gutter Busting – Slab!
The Host of Seraphim – Dead Can Dance
R.E.S. – Cardiacs
Night Sky, Sweet Earth – No-Man

Buy the 2 LP vinyl version of Steven Wilson Presents: Intrigue from Amazon
Buy the 7 LP vinyl version of Steven Wilson Presents: Intrigue from Amazon





Rupert Hine – Surface Tension – The Recordings 1981-1983 review

26 09 2022

Rupert Hine – Surface Tension – The Recordings 1981-1983 is a 3CD Box Set containing the albums Immunity (1981), Waving Not Drowning (1982) and The Wildest Wish To Fly (1983). The three early 80s albums have been newly remastered by original engineer / co-producer Stephen W Tayler. The boxset also includes an illustrated booklet featuring an essay and interviews.

Rupert Hine - Surface Tension – The Recordings 1981-1983 cover

The three albums were a partnership – with music written by Rupert Hine and lyrics written by Jeannette Obstoj. Hine had success as a member of Quantum Jump and also had an amazing career as a songwriter and producer, going on to produce more than 160 albums, including collaborations with Tina Turner, The Fixx, Howard Jones, The Members, Chris de Burgh, Jona Lewie, Rush, Bob Geldof, Stevie Nicks, Thomson Twins, The Waterboys, Kate Bush, Suzanne Vega, Underworld, Kevin Godley and Duncan Sheik.

Rupert Hine - Immunity cover

The first album in the collection is 1981’s Immunity. Guests on the album include an appearance by Marianne Faithfull on Misplaced Love, and Immunity includes performances from renowned guitarist Phil Palmer, drums and percussion from Trevor Morais, along with Phil Collins contributing percussion on two key tracks.

I Hang On to My Vertigo sets the scene for this trilogy. Immunity is driven by early 80s suspended piano and deep synths, expertly processed (I love the decay effects and the use of the Eventide harmoniser on the album) topped with a mixture of acoustic and electronic percussion. The songs mostly have a sombre, dark feeling with a heavy reliance on mood and atmospherics, giving the albums a timeless feel.

Samsara is a haunting piece, with heavily processed synth percussion, and layered choral vocals from Hine. Hine is often rightly praised for his production work, but was not given enough credit for his solo recording career. He had a unique, instantly recognisable vocal style that perfectly suited the material he released in the 80s, and it is easy to see how these three albums influenced other musicians of the time.

Credit must also go to lyricist Jeannette Obstoj, whose often dystopian, and always interesting lyrics clearly fed and inspired Hine’s imagination.

The album reaches a peak of darkness with I Think A Man Will Hang Soon. An initially sparse arrangement, with sharp peaks and troughs, and the album’s first appearance of live percussion and heavy guitar, adding to the feeling of fearful apprehension.

“I think a man will hang soon
He’s hiding in a back room
His morals are confused now
Like walls they’re bound to crack soon”

The title track and Another Stranger feature Phil Collins on percussion. Marimbas pepper Immunity throughout the verses, for one of the lighter, more uplifting songs on the album. Another Stranger has a heady mix of electronic with acoustic instrumentation. Phil Palmer adds some delicious heavily chorused guitar, and Collins contributions are understated, serving the song well.

I always wondered if the “Boredom–boredom–boredom” from the chorus of Psycho Surrender was a lyrical nod to the Buzzcocks track from three years earlier? Psycho Surrender includes some of the techniques that came to the fore in electronic music a few years further down the line, when sampling technology arrived, although in this case, the “samples” are bottles being smashed and recorded in real time.

Make a Wish is once again driven by synth percussion and multi-tracked vocals, amongst the fractured mechanical arrangement, that has the feel of an old AM radio tuning in and out of the static. The moment the noise is tuned out and Hines vocals and synths cut through, offers up one of the most powerful moments on the album.

Immunity ends with two bonus tracks, the dark Scratching At Success and the brutal minimalism of Introduction To The Menace.

“He’s scratching at success
Like some poor dog locked in a room”

Waving Not Drowning from 1982 was my introduction to Rupert’s work, and remains one of my favourite albums from the early 80s. I first heard the album on one side of a cassette lent to my by a flat-mate, and along with the album on the other side of the tape (Talking Heads More Songs About Buildings and Food from 1978), Waving Not Drowning was a constant companion for my Walkman accompanied early morning commutes to the NHS hospital where I worked at the time. I lost track of the album (when I eventually gave the tape back!) and did not hear it again until buying a CD reissue (from Voiceprint in 2001) and then tracking down an original vinyl copy from Discogs.

Rupert Hine - Waving Not Drowning cover

The Phil’s (Palmer and Collins) plus Trevor Morais are joined by Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) for Waving Not Drowning.

Waving Not Drowning is the album I am most familiar with from this collection, so to me the improvements from Stephen W Tayler’s remaster is at its most pronounced here. The songs on Waving Not Drowning are amongst Hine’s strongest, with a shift to more conventional arrangements whilst keeping most of the quirky, innovative production in place.

Eleven Faces sounds so powerful with this remaster, utilising a Hine signature – the vocal line closely following the keyboard melody.

“Do I remember how he held the woman down
His shadow made a pool so deep she had to drown”

It is also noticeable in this remaster how the volume increases slightly at key points in the arrangement of songs.

The Curious Kind has a wonderful, addictive chorus with background vocals from Christopher Thomson.

“The slow recurring point unwinds
We always were the curious kind”

The Set Up has one of those chorus’s that sticks like glue. The production is so clever on this track, a metronomic rhythm, with vocal and synths offering an unconventional bassline lurking behind an emotional synth backing.

Jeannette Obstoj provides Hine with wonderful lyrics about conformity and social shaping.

“They did it with kindness
They did it with a smile
They did it all, with a licence
They did it, according to the rules
They did it, with good advice
They did it, from inside
They did it, for some reason
They did it
Well they tried”

Dark Windows uses stormy weather as a backdrop to introduce the percussion, with swirling organs and drenched in reverb piano serving the perfect mood for the lyrics.

The Sniper details a list of ways in which one can get killed, and features stellar guitar work from Phil Palmer, alongside one of the albums most powerful percussive performances. The end section, with discordant guitars and saxophone from Ollie W. Tayler (aka Stephen W Tayler!), reminds me a little of Bill Nelson’s Red Noise.

“The sniper knows his time has come
and the life he takes means nothing more
than bullets to the gun”

Innocents in Paradise features Phil Collins on marimba, timbales and tom-toms. House Arrest was dedicated to Donald Woods, a South African anti-Apartheid activist and friend of Stephen Biko.

The Outsider is one of my favourites on the album. A mix of found sounds, utilising Synclavier and PPG Wave synths.

The pre-chorus of

“So to the spider the web is home
Now the fly lands
The fly must stay”

works so well as a pre-cursor to the bold, crashing section that comes next. The Outsider is very unsettling, and a must listen on headphones to fully appreciate the production touches.

The album proper ends with the mixture of synth-pop and cymbal heavy rock of One Man’s Poison, followed by ‘b’ side Kwok’s Quease, the only track that I always skip!

The Wildest Wish To Fly did not feature two Phil’s this time, but two Palmers. Joining Phil Palmer was Robert Palmer, who added vocals to several tracks. James West-Oram (The Fixx) also features on guitar.

Rupert Hine - The Wildest Wish To Fly cover

Rupert Hine was working with Robert Palmer around the time of The Wildest Wish To Fly, and the sounds and feel of Palmer’s wonderful Pride album seep through, along with a somewhat more conventional and less challenging set of songs, which is a shame after the landmark of the previous years Waving Not Drowning.

There is still plenty to enjoy though. Palmer guests on album opener Living in Sin, with its infectious chorus. No Yellow Heart retains some of the sonic charm of the previous albums, and the lyrics remain interesting throughout.

The simplicity of Firefly in the Night is a highlight of The Wildest Wish To Fly, reminding me of the use of acoustic instruments alongside electronics used to such great effect by Thomas Dolby and his The Flat Earth album that came out a year later.

“Then I thought I saw your face
But it was no more than a firefly in the night”

Picture Phone features another appearance from Robert Palmer, and remarkably predicts the rise of our reliance on smartphones and technology. The more commercial single mix appears towards the end of this CD. The Most Dangerous of Men feeds off the chant vocals also used on Palmer’s Pride to good effect. The organ and piano backing, allied with a steady beat, works so well.

The title track is just under a minute shorter than the original release, due to a plethora of remixed and re-edited releases in different territories. It is one of the more experimental pieces in terms of the arrangement, and features some plaintive chorused guitar from Phil Palmer and another vocal appearance from Robert Palmer. A slightly progressive feel seeps into the central section of the song, and it adds a welcome new flavour to the mix.

Four bonus tracks complete this version of the album, the highlight of which is the stripped back An Eagle’s Teaching, which offers some lovely bass work and subtle guitar lines.

The remastering by Stephen W Tayler adds so much to these versions of the classic Rupert Hine early eighties albums, that will appeal to fans of the original releases as well as anyone interested in early 80s synth based music. There is so much to enjoy in this new collection.

Buy Rupert Hine – Surface Tension – The Recordings 1981-1983 from Amazon

Buy Rupert Hine – Surface Tension – The Recordings 1981-1983 from Burning Shed

CD1
Immunity
I Hang On To My Vertigo
Misplaced Love
Samsara
Surface Tension
I Think A Man Will Hang Soon
Immunity
Another Stranger
Psycho Surrender
Make A Wish

Bonus tracks:
Scratching At Success
Introduction To The Menace

CD2
Waving Not Drowning
Eleven Faces
The Curious Kind
The Set Up
Dark Windows
The Sniper
Innocents In Paradise
House Arrest
The Outsider
One Man’s Poison

Bonus track:
Kwok’s Quease

CD3
The Wildest Wish To Fly
Living in Sin
No Yellow Heart
The Saturation of the Video Rat
Firefly in the Night
A Golden Age
Picture Phone
The Victim of Wanderlust
The Most Dangerous of Men
The Wildest Wish to Fly

Bonus tracks:
Blue Flame (Melt the Ice)
An Eagle’s Teaching
Picture Phone (remix)
No Yellow Heart (later version)

Buy Rupert Hine – Surface Tension – The Recordings 1981-1983 from Amazon

Buy Rupert Hine – Surface Tension – The Recordings 1981-1983 from Burning Shed





Date Stamp – the 80s (part1)

30 06 2017

Date Stamp – the 80s is the first in a series of blog posts attached to Spotify playlists I will be putting together, alongside my regular reviews of new releases.

sign o the times

The playlists will be a mixture of the familiar and lesser known songs, that I hope will shine the light on artists that you might not be familiar with. I would love to read your comments about the tracks I have chosen – please feel free to follow my playlists and share them.

I hope you enjoy listening to part 1 of my 80s Spotify playlist.

My Date Stamp – the 80s (part 1) playlist opens up with Duran Duran’s Save A Prayer, from the Rio album. The synth lines alone lead to its inclusion in this playlist. Save A Prayer was released in August 1982.

Next up is the only 12″ mix in the playlist. A brilliant Laurie Latham production, and one of my favourite extended versions from the 80s. Released in March 1983, Come Back and Stay can be found on the No Parlez album, and contains one of Pino Palladino’s most memorable bass-lines.

N_networkIt was difficult to choose just one Prince song for this playlist, and I know future playlists will include other songs from the Purple maestro, but I kept coming back to the Sign O The Times album, and particularly the power-pop of I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, included here in its full album length.

The video for this track was a mainstay on Night Network, the late night weekend ITV show that preceded 24 hour TV.  I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man was released as a single in November 1987.

Mothers Talk was the first single from the second Tears For Fears album Songs From The Big Chair. The single was released in August 1984, with the album following in February 1985. Fairlight stabs, heavy sequenced synths and 80s nuclear paranoia drive this powerful song. The Roland Orzabal guitar riff on Mothers Talk is one of his best. The song may be synth and sampler heavy, but the guitar work (and the delayed and distorted bass and percussion in the outro) make this a standout track on the album.

If you are feeling flush, a deluxe edition of the album was released in 2014. You can read my review here.

wilderTiny Children from the second Teardrop Explodes album Wilder (1981) is one of the bands most commercial pieces.

Released as a single in June 1982, it sat comfortably with the other pop songs released that year, but as with all great pop music, scratch a little deeper below the surface and you will find much to savour.

“Oh no, I’m not sure
Not anymore”

A Secret Wish was the debut album by German band Propaganda. The album was released by ZTT Records in 1985, and was produced by Stephen Lipson with Trevor Horn. p:Machinery is my favourite track on the album, and one of the finest mid-80s singles. I love the percussion and crisp synths, and lead vocalist Claudia Brücken is still releasing new music.

Fade To Grey by Visage is one of the oldest tracks in this playlist. The single (the bands second) was released in 1980. The song was promoted by one of  Kevin Godley and Lol Creme’s earliest videos.

lexicon of loveThe title song of this playlist is Date Stamp by ABC, from their debut album, Lexicon of Love. I’ve gone for one of the less-well known ABC songs, but its my favourite track from the album. It hits all the marks for me – great backing vocals, a stunning bass-line and some of Martin Fry’s finest lyrics.

“Looking for the girl who meets
supply with demand”

Lexicon of Love was released in June 1982.

Another lesser-known track is up next. Here Comes a Raincloud is from the second China Crisis album, Working with Fire and Steel. A fine ballad with a wonderful arrangement and beautiful production (from Mike Howlett).  The (real not synthesised) strings on this track still sound beautiful. A piece of pop magic from the Liverpudlians.

I’ve included the 10″ version of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark‘s Messages in my playlist. Another mighty Mike Howlett production. I love the hard sequences and the ever evolving bassline in this single from 1980.

I’m sure other Thomas Dolby tracks will feature in subsequent playlists, but I chose Airwaves as I think its a song that’s often overlooked. That chorus!

Airwaves features on the 1982 The Golden Age of Wireless album – I can recommend the excellent collectors edition.

I never tire of hearing Absolute by Scritti Politti. The mixture of sugar-sweet vocals and hard-beats hits the spot for me, even to this day. This Arif Mardin produced single from the bands period working in New York arrived smack bang in the middle of the 80s, and can be found on the album Cupid & Psyche 85.

A little journey back into the less-familiar for the next track on my playlist. Unless is from the debut Pale Fountains album Pacific Street, which was released in 1984. The slow-building percussion and reverb-laden synth mix with some heart-wrenching strings and an unexpected sequenced synth line towards the end of the song.

The band turned up the guitars for their final studio album, …From Across the Kitchen Table in 1986, before splitting, with vocalist Mick Head forming the band Shack, who have existed in various incarnations from 1987 to date.

44426-cafe-bleuI loved the early to mid-period Style Council singles and I’ve included the single edit of one of my favourites in this playlist. As with the previous track, some wonderfully detailed 80s percussion underpins My Ever Changing Moods. The song includes a typically great Paul Weller lyric and one of his best guitar performances from this era.

“The hush before the silence,
the winds after the blast”

My Ever Changing Moods was released in 1984 and can be found on Greatest Hits (this single version) or on their debut studio album Cafe Bleu.

Prefab Sprout’s Goodbye Lucille #1 (known as Johnny Johnny when released as a single) is a highlight of the bands second album Steve McQueen, which was released in 1985. The production by Thomas Dolby results in a timeless sounding album. Just listen to the intro – such wonderful separation between the layers of guitars.

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions released their debut album Rattlesnakes in 1984, and its release was preceded by the single Forest Fire in August 1984. The album was recorded in John Foxx’s The Garden studios in East London. I’ve always loved the simple but very emotive guitar solo that pushes the song to its conclusion.

Lloyd Cole has always been known as a great wordsmith, and Forest Fire and its lyrics of wild love and lust are an absolute joy.

“I believe in love, I’ll believe in anything”

I’ve included the title track from Deacon Blue’s debut album, Raintown, in this playlist. A fine production from Jon Kelly (who also worked with Chris Rea, Kate Bush and Prefab Sprout). Raintown is a strong late 80s albums, and its worth tracking down the 2012 Edsel reissue.

Primarily known for his signature song Wonderful Life, the late Colin Vearncombe’s Black have left us with a rich catalogue of  songs. My favourite track from the debut album Wonderful Life is the torch-song Paradise. The album was re-issued as a two disc deluxe edition in 2013. Which I didn’t know about until writing this blog – so over to Amazon I go.

“Life should never feel small”

I’ve included one of Thomas Lang’s less well-known songs in this playlist. Thomas delivers a heartfelt version of Jacques Brel’s powerful anti-war (and song of loss) Sons of.  The song was often a highlight of Lang’s live shows in the late 80s, early 90s. Sons of is available on Scallywag Jaz and More – the Best of…

“Sons of the great or sons unknown
All were children like your own”

age of plasticMy playlist ends with Elstree by The Buggles. Taken from their first album The Age of Plastic from 1980,  the haunting Elstree features some lovely piano and a convincing minimoog oboe emulation from Geoff Downes.

The Buggles only released one further album, Adventures in Modern Recording in 1981. The past few years have seen rumours of new Buggles music, which would please me greatly, as I am a big fan of most of Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes work.

Ok, Elstree ends with the words “Cut”, and so does this playlist. I hope you enjoyed listening to all of the songs, and maybe you’ve discovered some music you were not aware of. Feel free to leave a comment below, and I hope to return to the 80s for another serving of the familiar and the unknown in the next few months.

The next playlists will be two collections of Alternative Jewels – one of older songs and one made up of some of my more recent favourites. Follow the Music Shack on Twitter to find out when they will be available.

To be informed of new posts, along with music tweets, please follow the Music Shack on Twitter @MkMusicshack.





The Opium Cartel – Ardor

6 11 2013

"Ardor" by The Opium CartelArdor is the second album from The Opium Cartel, an outlet for the more pop orientated music of songwriter/producer Jacob Holm-Lupo from Norway’s art-rock band White Willow.

Ardor is inspired by the 80s pop of The Blue Nile, Thomas Dolby, Japan, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, as well as drawing on more modern electronic music by the likes of M83 and Air.

Fans of 80s music will also recognise the warm synth sounds of the Prophet 5, Fairlight, Oberheim OB8, and the PPG Wave, that are scattered throughout the album’s 9 tracks.

Album opener Kissing Moon features Venke Knutson and Rhys Marsh on vocals, and features some wonderful, frenetic percussion and the first appearance of those lovely warm synths!

When We Dream (stream the remixed single version below) has shades of Icehouse and a-ha in the vocal performance from Norwegian singer Alexander Stenerud. The most commercial track on the album, with a very anthemic chorus, and an addictive guitar riff. When We Dream bleed’s pure unadulterated nostalgia.

Silence Instead is an early album highlight, co-written by and featuring  vocals from no-man’s Tim Bowness. A slow-burning song, with some delicious guitar work, and a synth sound that reminds me of my favourite Thomas Dolby track, Screen Kiss. Tim is a regular collaborator of  Jacob’s, featuring on the debut album by The Opium Cartel as well as White Willow’s progressive masterpiece, Terminal Twilight.

“The snowdrifts are real but the mountains are fake”

If you miss a-ha (who split in 2011), you will love Northern Rains, which sounds like a long-lost 1980s ballad from Morten Harket & co, underpinned by the Peter Gabriel rhythm section from 1980.

Sorry about all the 80s references in this review, but it’s fun playing spot the influence, and it helps that the 80s homage in the music is not ironic or cheesey, but playful and pays respect to the creativity and exploration of a much maligned decade.

Watch the Ardor album trailer

Revenant features the only vocals on the album from Jacob Holm-Lupo, and is one of the albums more progressive tracks. I don’t know if it is inspired by the recent French TV series “The Returned / Les Revenants” but there are certainly some nods to the excellent Mogwai soundtrack in the instrumentation.

White Wolf was the first song written for the album, and heralds a change in the album’s direction from this point in, with each track getting steadily more progressive. The middle section is very moving, and veers off into Yes-inspired territory towards the end, with a Chris Squire-like strong, melodic bassline.

The Waiting Ground has the classic synths still present, and features a great performance from Henry Fool (and current no-man live band) keyboard player Stephen Bennett.

“If I run, where do I run to?”

Then Came the Last Days of May is Ardor‘s only non-original track, a haunting cover of a classic rock ballad from Blue Öyster Cult’s debut album from 1972. This is one for fans of Opeth’s Damnation album, and a perfect way to set-up the album finale.

Mariner, Come In is the epic that completes the album. A rare vocal outing for Henry Fool’s Stephen Bennett, this track is more in keeping with recent White Willow, and the latter section of the track is most definitely jazz-rock and proud of it! A wild saxophone solo from Harald Lassen on top of layered synths is reminiscent of parts of the recent Steven Wilson album, and after 11 minutes, the track and the album itself, slowly fades to a close.

Ardor is a very different beast to the first Opium Cartel album, and feels more consistent (even though it has a wider variety of vocalists). It should appeal to a wide audience – from the more mainstream fans of modern electronic / pop to lovers of modern progressive music. Oh, and fans of 80s music!

Buy Ardor on Amazon UK 

Buy Night Blooms  on Amazon UK

Buy White Willow’s Terminal Twilight on Amazon UK





Thomas Dolby – A Map Of The Floating City

13 11 2011

The last Thomas Dolby studio album was Astronauts & Heretics back in 1992, so to say A Map Of The Floating City is long-awaited is a bit of an understatement.

There have been a couple of live releases and re-issues in recent years (notably the wonderful collectors edition of The Flat Earth in 2009) but the silence with regards to new music was finally broken last year with a couple of digital EP’s available from the official Dolby website.  6 of the EP tracks appear on A Map Of The Floating City.  Whilst they work perfectly well as album tracks, it’s a slight disappointment that the album is not made up of more new music, but after such a long wait, it’s only a minor complaint.

Album opener Nothing New Under The Sun kicks off with a bassline that’s vaguely reminiscent of The Jackson’s Can You Feel It, and this is the only real nod towards the 80’s on the album.

“Hey any fool can write a hit
loop me a breakbeat baby I’ll tweak it till it fits”

A wonderful rhythm guitar line from long-time Dolby collaborator Kevin Armstrong drives the song.  The Princealike dirty bubbling synths introduce Spice Train, a track that sits better on the album (as a standalone single it never really hit me).  The Eastern promise of the strings and backing vocals work well with the travelogue lyrics.

Evil Twin Brother, with it’s New York fire sirens, Shaft guitars and themed lyrics really set the scene for the song.  Much like the way I Love You Goodbye from Astronauts & Heretics, with it’s crickets and thunder gave a real cajun flavour, Evil Twin Brother gives a real feel of the at times claustrophobic New York city vibe.

“They say that New York city never sleeps
But I think they’re only talking about me
it’s 3am and ninety-five degrees.”

The album is split into three themed sections.  The final track that makes up the first section (Urbanoia) is A Jealous Thing Called Love, a lovely latin-tinged song of regret and betrayal, featuring Bruce Woolley (co-writer of Video Killed The Radio Star with Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes of The Buggles) on backing vocals.

Amerikana is the second section of the album, which starts with Road To Reno.

“He was a crooked politician
she sold brassieres at Sears
he said he liked The Beatles
And she liked Tears for Fears” 

A tale of a Badlands styled road-trip, that’s never going to end with chocolates and flowers, although Mars bars get a mention in the lyrics.  The guitar has a real Dire Straits circa Communiqué era feel, which is apt as Mark Knopfler features a couple of tracks later.

The Toad Lickers is a banjo and jaw harp (from Imogen Heap) led song about  “a group of crazed eco-hippies in the Welsh mountains who get high on Bufo alvarius and creep into the local town after hours in search of munchies” according to Thomas on his website.  Glad he cleared that one up, as otherwise I’d have no idea what on earth this strange song is about. The track features backing vocals from Adele Bertei (who provided the soaring vocals on Dolby’s Hyperactive! from 1984, pop-pickers, not toad-lickers).

17 Hills is the longest track on the album, and is up there with Screen Kiss as one of my favourite Dolby songs.  Featuring the afore-mentioned Mark Knopfler on guitar, this evocative track always reminds me of the wide-open spaces of California, and the hills overlooking the urban sprawl of Los Angeles.  17 Hills features some lovely fretless bass work from Jeffrey Wash.

“The city rises on seventeen hills
seventeen hills from the Bay
The silhouette of those beautiful hills
is right at the end of this old stormdrain.” 

Love Is A Loaded Pistol ends this section of the album and is the most stripped back track, with just Dolby and a string section.  I’ll let Thomas explain the inspiration for this song:

“The idea came to me in a dream: I had a nocturnal visitation from Billie Holiday who traveled through time to give me a song lyric. Of course, I was amazed and I was overjoyed. She was in an evening gown and looking ravishing. She sat next to me and said ‘I’ve got a lyric for you.’ I said ‘Great, hit me!’ She said ‘Okay…..This time it’s love.’

I smiled awkwardly. There was a pause. Then I said ‘erm…. well it’s a bit crap, isn’t it?’ She looked dejected and asked why. I said there had to be half a dozen songs with that title over the years, not that any particular one sprang to mind. ‘Well you can make it cool, right?’ Suddenly the waking me got very upset with my dream me and interjected some diplomacy. I mean here I was with one of the greatest singers that ever lived, and I just told her her idea was crap. I started to say something like ‘Look, I’ll try to work your lyric in….’ but it was too late. Billie was fading and I felt myself waking up…”

Oceanea is the final themed section of the album, which starts with the song of the same name.  Featuring Eddi Reader on vocals, it’s a beautiful, haunting song that even includes what sounds to me like, shock-horror, some auto-tune effects on Dolby’s vocals, not in a Cher way you understand, but just a subtle inflection on certain words. The lyrics are the most moving on the album, and Oceanea is definitely the personal highlight of the album for me.

Simone, with its theremin intro from Bruce Woolley, has a lyrical twist that I won’t give away here, and at times reminds me of Aja period Steely Dan or maybe even early Prefab Sprout (who Dolby first worked with on the Steve McQueen album in 1985).

The album ends with To The Lifeboats, with its lovely rolling drums from Pat Mastelotto and haunting acoustic guitar, sounds of the sea and a not very positive end for the subject of the song, by the sounds of things.

Hopefully the warm critical response to this album will mean there won’t be such a long wait until the next Thomas Dolby album.

Buy A Map Of The Floating City at Amazon UK

Buy The Flat Earth at Amazon UK

Buy The Golden Age of Wireless at Amazon UK

Buy The Sole Inhabitant – (+DVD) at Amazon UK

Buy Astronauts & Heretics at Amazon UK

All lyrics © Thomas Dolby

All A Map Of The Floating City videos on this page taken from the official Thomas Dolby YouTube channel.

Thomas Dolby website 








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