no-man – love you to bits album review

4 10 2019

no-man will release love you to bits, the duo’s first studio album for eleven years, on 22 November 2019. The album is made up of two connected five-part pieces (love you to bits and love you to pieces).

The album marks a return to the more beat-driven electronica of Loveblows & Lovecries – A Confession and parts of Flowermouth, but with a tempo consistency missing from previous albums.

On first hearing the finished album, I was surprised by the sense of urgency, and how some of the performances are quite visceral. I heard echoes of Trent Reznor / nine inch nails and at times, Outside era David Bowie, before the songs took on a real identity of their own.

The album should not be surprising to long-time fans of no-man – my CD single of Only Baby sits close to Donna Summers Once Upon A Time double-album in my CD rack, occasionally throwing coquettish glances in its direction. So whilst love you to bits feels influenced by the urgent sequenced riffs of the “father of Disco” Giorgio Moroder, Bowness and Wilson have developed so much as writers and musicians since the early days, and this is clearly evident as there is so much more to this album than high-energy electronics.

There are two remarkable performances that leap out of the speakers from guest players. On love you to bits guitarist David Kollar delivers a white-hot manic solo that is one of the highlights of the album, and on love you to pieces Steven Wilson band member Adam Holzman serves up a fusion electric piano solo that is dripping with passion (and a fair amount of reverb).

Other guests include Ash Soan (The Producers / Trevor Horn / Downes Braide Association), who adds powerful live drums on top of the drum machines, giving a real push to sections of the album, plus some damn funky synth basslines from Norwich’s finest low notes rumbler (and half of Burning Shed) Pete Morgan, plus a surprising but emotive appearance from The Dave Desmond Brass Quintet (Big Big Train).

The first track (or suite), love you to bits, is driven by deep synth lines and Bowness’s sardonic lyrics surveying the shattered wreck of a relationship. As the live drums kick in, Wilson’s guitar processing harks back to the sound of early no-man, and at times the music draws from the mood of Only Baby and Bleed.

love you to bits contains one of no-man’s finest choruses, and even with the aforementioned I Feel Love / Moroder / Belotte influences, the album feels very current, and will surely appeal to fans of most forms of electronic / electronic dance music.

“I love you, like I don’t love you at all”

Just before the 6 minute mark, one of my favourite moments kicks in. Featuring a short guitar and bass interplay that is pure Platinum era Mike Oldfield, the section breaks down to an Underworld / Born Slippy motif that leads to a vocal and instrumental refrain that sums up the beauty of no-man, with a subtle nod to lighthouse (my favourite no-man song). The music then picks up, with wild Bowness vocals and beautiful lead guitar lines from the boy Wilson. I will let you discover the unexpected ending to love you to bits yourself, which sees out the first five part piece.

love you to pieces is a darker, more twisted cousin of the first half of the album.

“our sticky love just left me weak”

Opening with a dub-like, slow it all down continuation of the theme, the song takes a detour and again draws on the DNA of no-man’s past.

“There’s no need to look for answers
To the questions never asked
There’s no need to make a shelter
from your versions of our past”

A heavily vocodered, processed vocal breakdown leads to the aforementioned Adam Holzman solo section and I’m reminded a little of some of the instrumentation of Bird Shadows, Wolf & Moon, an earlier mostly vocal-less piece credited to no-man on the Drop 6 compilation.

As the synths sparkle like diamonds on the mid-section, and as the pace drops, I love the production touches on Tim’s vocals – reminding me of the tape decay of The Disintegration Loops and The Caretaker. It’s the most moving part of the whole album, and is like having pure, unadulterated no-man shot through your veins. I have no doubt that long-time no-man fans will be deeply moved by the mid to end section of love you to pieces.

The decay and melancholy of the end section reminds me a little of the darker parts of 10cc and Godley & Creme, feeling like a Mogadon infused I’m Not In Love, as the melody is scraped away to reveal the bare bones of the piece.

love you to bits is a world away from the most recent no-man albums, but even if you are not usually a fan of the more electronic side of the band, I think there is plenty here to savour. The album touches on the band’s earlier sound palette, but is so unlike anything else in no-man’s catalogue.

Although often jokingly teased as the band’s “disco epic” when mentioned in interviews, love you to bits is in fact one of the most progressive albums released under the no-man name. Not as a genre, but progressive as evidence of no-man changing, evolving and progressing onto something new.

I hope the album is heard outside of the Bowness / Wilson audience, as it will surely appeal to anyone with a love of electronic music. Prepare to be surprised and you will not be disappointed.

Buy the album

Buy love you to bits (CD / Vinyl / packages) from Burning Shed

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Buy love you to bits on CD from Amazon

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Buy love you to bits on vinyl from Amazon

love you to bits details

love you to bits (Bits 1-5) (17.03)
love you to pieces (Pieces 1-5) (18.54)

Tim Bowness – Vocals
Steven Wilson – Instruments

Ash Soan – Drums
The Dave Desmond Brass Quintet – Brass on love you to bits
Adam Holzman – Electric Piano solo on love you to pieces
David Kollar – Electric Guitar solo on love you to bits
Pete Morgan – Synth bass on love you to bits

produced and written by no-man
mixed by Bruno Ellingham
mastered by Matt Colton





Tim Bowness – Flowers At The Scene

13 02 2019

Tim Bowness’ fifth solo album Flowers At The Scene is released on InsideOutMusic/Sony on the 1st March 2019. Described as being “produced by no-man and Brian Hulse”, there is definitely the spirit of no-man in the DNA of some of the songs, whilst there is also a feeling of renewal with the wide-ranging guests and new musicians, who have breathed new life into this run of solo albums.

Flowers At The Scene has its own very clear musical identity and a cohesive sound, but still with plenty of variety in tones and mood. Album opener I Go Deeper features powerful (treated) drums from Bowness newbie Tom Atherton, and a great Mick Karn-like bassline from Colin Edwin. The edgy kitchen-sink drama lyrics perfectly suit the musical ebb and flow of the track.

“Wild, desperate kisses, fire escapes, near misses.”

The Train That Pulled Away feels somewhat like a distant relation of Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting, before exploding into a more powerful outro section (drummer Tom Atherton is a real find by the way).

Rainmark is the first track that really channels the spirit of no-man, dressed to impress, wearing a lovely Flowermouth outfit. One of several tracks to feature the trumpet playing of Ian Dixon and also home to a fine guitar solo from Jim Matheos (Fates Warning / OSI / contributor to Memories of Machines).

Not Married Anymore is the first song to feature Dylan Howe, and probably the albums saddest track. Which of course, makes it one of my favourites. Building on the recent Plenty album (and featuring Brian Hulse and David K Jones from the band), Not Married Anymore is simple, uncluttered but devastatingly melancholic. An early album highlight.

The title track dials in further sadness and regret, over a mesmerising drum and double bass pattern (the bass reminds me of Danny Thompson). A tale of visible signs of a painful loss (we have all seen wilting flowers at the scene of someones passing), Flowers At The Scene is achingly beautiful.

It’s The World is a musical oddity on the album. Metal guitar (along with Comsat Angel-like harmonics) from Jim Matheos, plus guitar and backing vocals from Peter Hammill and a synth coda from Steven Wilson, leads to the most startling / jarring piece on the album. It is uneasy listening.

Things calm down a little with Borderline, which features a vocal (and flute plus melodica) appearance from Big Big Train’s David Longdon. The organ and interplay between the flute and trumpet lift this song to a higher plane, and over the past few months this song has become one of my favourites from the album.

“Friends keeping tabs – You just say that you’re fine,
They’re watching you slip, across the fragile borderline.”

Ghostlike features instrumentation and a mix of styles that on paper simply should not work. A post-punk, seemingly (Banshees) Budgie inspired drum pattern underpins a Drive / LA synth soundtrack, topped off with some wonderful guitar tones. The haunting mood is deepened by the voyeuristic lyrics, heavily treated lead and backing vocal lines and frenzied guitar. If you were a fan of Thomas Dolby’s The Flat Earth album from the mid 80s (particularly Screen Kiss), you will love Ghostlike.

The War On Me strips the arrangement back to the electronic textures, whilst channelling no-man’s My Revenge on Seattle and Heaven’s Break for good measure. The War On Me is my favourite Bowness vocal performance on the album. Like Tony Visconti with David Bowie, Steven Wilson knows how to add that extra sheen to the production of Tim’s vocals.

The most uplifting song on the album is Killing To Survive, with its inventive, constantly evolving vocal arrangements, and it’s Plenty on steriods musical palette.

The album ends on one of its strongest pieces, and what I consider to be a Bowness career highlight with What Lies Here. With Returning Jesus recalling treated electronics, What Lies Here features Andy Partridge (XTC) delivering an emotive guitar line and Kevin Godley (10CC / Godley & Creme) supplying a rare guest vocal. With both guests shimmering in and out of the mix, it is an inspired collaboration.

Godley’s vocals are sadly missing from the current musical landscape. I personally think that the first four Godley & Creme albums are some of the most interesting and influential releases of the late 70s, early 80s, and its great to hear his voice again. The abrupt end to What Lies Here catches me out every time.

“You, you’ll never make your way back home”

Flowers At The Scene is perfectly sequenced, and whilst it is not as obviously musically framed as Lost In The Ghost Light, the variety of moods and stylistic twists and turns makes this the most satisfying solo release to date from Tim. Lost In The Ghost Light also only really worked as a complete listening experience for me (which suited the theme), whereas a lot of the songs on Flowers At The Scene stand up in isolation.

Tracklisting
I Go Deeper (4.16)
The Train That Pulled Away (4.04)
Rainmark (4.15)
Not Married Anymore (3.31)
Flowers At The Scene (3.05)
It’s The World (3.04)
Borderline (3.46)
Ghostlike (5.09)
The War On Me (3.48)
Killing To Survive (4.00)
What Lies Here (4.01)

produced by no-man and Brian Hulse
mixed by Steven Wilson, mastered by Steve Kitch
no-man is Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson

Flowers At The Scene is available as a CD in deluxe digipak, 180g black vinyl in gatefold cover with insert and CD, and a Burning Shed only 180g red vinyl edition in gatefold cover with insert and CD. All pre-orders from Burning Shed come with an exclusive signed greeting card and an mp3 EP of alternate versions.

Pre-order (CD / vinyl) from Burning Shed
Pre-order the CD from Amazon
Pre-order the vinyl from Amazon





Big Big Train – Merchants of Light

24 07 2018

PrintMerchants of Light is the new live album from three times Progressive Music Award winning band Big Big Train. The album features the best performance of each song played at the band’s three sold out shows at Cadogan Hall, London, in the autumn of 2017.

The title track from their 2016 album Folklore ushers in the 16 track live album. The brass / strings and Shaft like rhythm guitar lines snuggle up together better than they should on this powerful opening track. Brave Captain from Folklore‘s companion album Grimspound works equally well in its live setting. As I mentioned in my original review, from the half way section of the song, there are shades of Dire Straits Private Investigations in the piano lines and the breakdown.

Last Train was originally on the 6th Big Big Train album The Underfall Yard from 2009. The song tells the story of a station masters last day at work. One of the more progressive songs on this live album, the harmonies are a pure joy to hear.

London Plane is built on a solid foundation of an intricate vocal arrangement, and serves up an adventurous mixture of jazz and prog flowing through the instrumental sections.

Meadowland is a gentle pastoral sounding track, with subtle brush drums, violin and restrained piano. A Mead Hall in Winter is one of this live album’s highlights. Synths and strings jostle with jaunty organ, throwing musical nods to 70s giants Genesis and Yes, with a sprinkle of early Steely Dan thrown in for good measure.

Swan Hunter from English Electric Part Two and its tale of a long-lost shipping industry has become one of the band’s standards. The use of brass always evokes a feeling of the early 1970s to me, and this fine version of Swan Hunter is no exceptionDavid Longdon’s vocals are in fine form here and throughout the album.

Big Big Train live by Simon Hogg

My favourite Big Big Train song is The Transit of Venus Across the Sun. It’s the brass again! The arrangement is so light and gentle, with no bombast used in getting the emotion across. There is real beauty in both the arrangement and performances from all the musicians.

East Coast Racer gets a fantastic reception from the crowd, and is the longest track on the album. The song charts the history of Mallard, the worlds fasted locomotive.  East Coast Racer is the band at their most progressive and highlights some of their finest melodies and harmonies.

A great version of  the mid 70s pop / rock influenced Telling The Bees is followed by one of the oldest songs on this album in Victorian Brickwork. This track is one that will appeal to fans of the first progressive era of the early 70s. The twists, turns and swells will lift the darkest of moods, and is modern progressive music at its finest.

Drums and Brass is an instrumental interlude that leads into the albums final track, Wassail.

It is easy to get lost in the music of Big Big Train – from the fascinating stories told through the lyrics, to the varied musical styles. If you have not heard the band before, Merchants of Light would be a great starting point, and it is highly likely that you will set off on a voyage of discovery to take in all of the bands recent albums.

Tracklist:

Folklore Overture
Folklore
Brave Captain
Last Train
London Plane
Meadowland
A Mead Hall in Winter
Experimental Gentlemen part two
Swan Hunter
Judas Unrepentant
The Transit of Venus Across the Sun
East Coast Racer
Telling the Bees
Victorian Brickwork
Drums and Brass
Wassail


Buy the Merchants of Light double CD from Amazon

 

Also available now is the Swan Hunter EP, that includes 3 versions of Swan Hunter (a radio edit, a 2018 remix of the album version and a live version), plus a new recording of English Electric: Full Power‘s Seen Better Days (an emotional duet with no-man’s Tim Bowness) and a 2017 live at Real World Studio version of Summer’s Lease (originally on 2007’s The Difference Machine album).





Plenty – It Could Be Home

14 04 2018

It Could Be HomePlenty was Tim Bowness’s immediate pre-no-man band. In 2016 and 2017, Bowness and fellow founder members Brian Hulse and David K Jones re-recorded Plenty’s catalogue of 1980s songs, revising some of them and even adding a newly written song (The Good Man). The end result is the debut album, It Could Be Home released on 27 April 2018 on Karisma Records.

Plenty are joined on the album by no-man live band members Michael Bearpark and Steve Bingham, Tim’s Bowness / Chilvers collaborator Peter Chilvers and Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow / Opium Cartel).

Whilst the album is understandably shot through with a real 80s sensibility, with touches of The Blue Nile, David Sylvian, Peter Gabriel, Thomas Dolby, and David Bowie lingering in the sounds and arrangements, It Could Be Home deserves to be listened to as more than just a work of pure nostalgia.

The album opens with a synth heavy, lightly delivered Jagger / Richards As Tears Go By, that is more Stranger Things than Lost in the Ghost Light. Hide delivers an Associates vibe to the music, and signals an album that is much more upbeat than recent Bowness releases. I think that the recent Bowness solo album’s have delivered some of his finest work, with material that is often comparable to a lot of his work in no-man, but it is good to hear a different side with Plenty. Vive la différence.

By far my favourite track on the album, the melancholic Never Needing is the one track on It Could Be Home that would fit onto one of Tim’s recent albums. Fans of no-man’s early work will recognise the song – previously recorded by no-man as Life is Elsewhere, and nowadays mostly existing on dusty old bootlegs or sitting as an (original “dodgy”) Napster-era, hiss-filled mp3 file on people’s hard-drives.

The Plenty version is a revelation. Sparse, brooding and slow-building, with an aching synth line and some of Tim’s most personal and direct lyrics and vocals. This is one of those occasions where I can confidently say that it is worth buying the album just for this song.

“You live in your world and I die in mine.
But I’m hopeful life is elsewhere”

Broken Nights really lifts towards the middle section of the song, before a key 80s stalwart (synth marimba bells) usher in the rest of the song.

Foolish Waking is another of my favourites from the album. Beatless and with some wonderful guitar lines from Michael Bearpark, and feeling a little like the work of the only Tim Bowness/Samuel Smiles studio album, World of Bright Futures from way back in 1999.

plenty

Strange Gods is underpinned by a delicious Mick Karn like bass-line, has hints of Bowie in the verses and a chorus seemingly inspired by The Blue Nile. So how can you not like the song? The mix, carried out with obvious love and attention by Norwegian guitarist, composer and producer Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow / The Opium Cartel) is colourful and warm throughout the album, but especially on Strange Gods.

Every Stranger’s Voice features Peter Chilvers on piano and the forensically detailed lyrics are filled with memories of an intense but long dead relationship. A powerful Michael Bearpark solo lifts the song towards its conclusion.

Another uptempo track is Climb, which has a real post-punk meets The Associates taking a quick detour via The Comsat Angels (circa the Fiction album). What a marvellous melting pot.

The Good Man is a new song that emerged during the recording sessions, and lyrically is tied to the album’s key track, Never Needing. The music has a late 80s feel, and lyrics that signal regret at letting go and giving up the fight too soon. The Good Man and the album’s closing title track offers something very different from recent Bowness releases.

The fact that the recording sessions produced new material of this quality, along with out-takes (such as a wonderful version of Forest Almost Burning, that I hope is revisited) suggest that there is a future for Plenty beyond this album.

If you pre-order It Could Be Home by Plenty from Burning Shed, on CD, vinyl or exclusive limited edition blue vinyl, you will receive an exclusive postcard and a free download EP of four of the band’s 1980s demos. Please note – this exclusive offer is only available until 27-04-2018 and only From Burning Shed.

Order Plenty – It Could Be Home on CD from Amazon

Order Plenty – It Could Be Home on vinyl from Amazon

As Tears go by
Hide
Never Needing
Broken Nights
Foolish Waking
Strange Gods
Every Stranger’s Voice
Climb
The Good Man
It could be Home

Band website: www.weareplenty.com





2017 end of year favourites

23 12 2017

I haven’t done this for a few years, but here are my favourite music, tv and film releases from 2017.

Top 5 new albums

In no particular order:

Paul Draper — Spooky Action

Spooky Action from former Mansun mainman Paul Draper is a strong debut album. The songs are ambitious, a mix of new wave and alternative with a slight hint of prog. Whilst the album has hints of Drapers old band, it does not trade off nostalgia.

Tracks such as Don’t Poke The Bear and Friends Make The Worst Enemies are angry and highlight Paul Drapers powerful vocals. Jealousy Is A Powerful Emotion breaks new sonic ground for Draper, and is an album highlight.

The contribution of Catherine AD aka The Anchoress  to Spooky Action is noticeable and welcome.

Tim Bowness – Lost In The Ghost Light

2017 saw the release of the Tim’s 4th solo album, and my favourite to date. You can read my full review here.

The most progressive sounding release so far from the no-man vocalist, the album has a concept built around the onstage and backstage reflections of a fictional ‘classic’ Rock musician in the twilight of his career.

My favourite track on the album is one of my most played songs of the year, the haunting Nowhere Good To Go.

CousteauX – by CousteauX

The comeback of the year for me. Rising from the ashes of the late 90s band Cousteau, CousteauX take the Bowie-esque vocals of Liam McKahey and the razor sharp song-writing of Davey Ray Moor to new levels. Whilst retaining the charm of the original band, CousteauX have added a much more powerful and darker hue to their new songs.

Read my full review here.

Fader — First Light

A real surprise this one. The album crept up on me after two or three listens and it has remained a favourite throughout the year. Fader are Neil Arthur (Blancmange) and Benge (John Foxx & The Maths / Gazelle Twin).

First Light is a very low-fi electronic album containing one of my favourite songs of the year in Launderette. Apparently a “very British take on the solitary mood of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks”, this brooding, pulsating piece of electronica is timeless.

Read my full review here.

Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia

A mostly instrumental album, Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia has picked up new fans as the year has progressed. One for fans of Mike Oldfield, John Foxx and Jean Michel Jarre, its a very moving album. The mixture of synths and a (real) brass band works surprisingly well, and Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia is one of those albums that you should listen to in one sitting, in the correctly sequenced order. Turn off your shuffle!

Read my full review here.

Honourable mentions

Other albums that I have loved in 2017

My favourite progressive album of the year was White Willow – Future Hopes. Dropping the metal leanings of earlier albums, and adding a wonderfully colourful warm palette, Future Hopes is a synth lovers dream. My favourite track on the album is the gentle Silver And Gold. Read my full review here.

Destroyer – ken was released quite late in 2017, and is still seeping into my heart. Destroyer are definitely a marmite band – but I’m a huge fan. ken feels like a love song to the electronica of bands such as New Order. Just listen to the way the synths sweep in on opening track Sky’s Grey. An album for fans who enjoy uneasy listening!

Atone by White Moth Black Butterfly is a very commercial progressive / pop album from members of the bands TesseracT and Skyharbor. Delicate vocals (reminding me of the late George Michael at times) sit atop sweeping orchestral decorated songs.

There are some really strong performances and clever production touches to this fine album. At times I am also reminded of This Mortal Coil in some of the arrangements and reverb-heavy keyboard treatments.

Atone is on its way to becoming one of my favourite albums of the year.

The first album from Cigarettes After Sex might only have one gear – a slow gear – but I have grown to really love this album. I adore the guitar sound – sort of like The Cure mixed with I’m In Love With A German Film Star. The lyrics are intriguing, if slightly pervy and the Twin Peaks vibe makes for a rewarding listen.

Favourite re-issues

David Bowie’s A New Career In A New Town (1977 – 1982) covers my favourite Bowie era (the “Berlin” trilogy). Apart from the dreadful error with the Heroes album (I’m still waiting for my replacement disc, record company grrrr) I’m happy with this box-set. Its great having the Moroder version of Cat People (Putting Out Fire) and the full Baal EP on CD, plus the Tony Visconti re-mix of Lodger is fascinating and very different from the original.

The 30th anniversary re-issue of Scalywag Jaz by Thomas Lang brings all the associated tracks from the period, plus live recordings and a couple of new songs, into one package. Its a great value, definitive release for one of the finest albums of the 80s.

Read my full review here.

I also think the remaster of Tango In The Night by Fleetwood Mac deserves a mention at this point. The deluxe version includes some fascinating (high quality) demos, 12″ mixes plus the main album has never sounded so good. Big Love from me for this 2017 reissue. I’m so sorry.

TV and Film

My favourite film in 2017 (although the film was released in 2016 I caught it on bluray this year) was Nocturnal Animals.  Produced and directed by Tom Ford, and starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon, this psychological thriller kept me in a state of unease until the very end of the film.

The TV event of the year for me was by far Twin Peaks: The Return or as it is billed on the bluray, Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series. I was a fan of the original series when it aired on TV in 1990, then fell in love with it again watching the series on its DVD re-issue many years later. I had high hopes for the new series, but after the initial nostalgia fuelled first few minutes, it was clear that Twin Peaks: The Return was going to surpass the original.

It wasn’t perfect, but then neither is life. There were entire sections and episodes that frustrated and baffled, but they were out-weighed by the visceral brutality of some of the characters (new and old) and their actions. This new series took me to places both wonderful and strange, and if this is the end of the Twin Peaks story, I’m so happy that we got to witness the return.

Episode 8 – watched in the early hours (the time it was broadcast in the UK), was one of the most mind-blowing experiences I have ever had. I simply could not believe what I was watching, and I went to work shortly afterwards with a mixture of euphoria and confusion.

As well as the bluray of The Return, there are also two fascinating books from Mark Frost (The Secret History of Twin Peaks and Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier) to help fill in the blanks and the missing years. What a fine way to spend your Christmas vouchers!

My other favourite TV series of 2017 was HBO’s Big Little Lies. The series starred Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz and Laura Dern, and kept the dark, brutal secret that rumbled through the entire series out of sight to the very end.

Finally, my favourite TV re-issue from 2017 was the blu-ray of Hammer House of Horror: The Complete Series.  The high definition remaster of the ITV series from 1980 features 13 spine-tingling stories starring Peter Cushing, Diana Dors, Denholm Elliott and Brian Cox.

Here’s to a great year of music, film and TV in 2018.





no-man – Returning Jesus (2017 remaster / deluxe edition)

7 11 2017

returning_jesus 500Originally released in February 2001, Returning Jesus received highly positive reviews in Mojo, Uncut, Billboard, Classic Rock and other publications at the time of its release and has continued to be seen by both critics and fans as one of the best albums produced by the duo of Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson.

The November 2017 KScope reissue features a 2017 Steven Wilson remaster, and sleeve notes from Tim Bowness.

Only Rain is one of no-man’s most minimalist pieces. A seemingly Arvo Part inspired string intro slowly builds and comes to life with a beautiful Ian Carr trumpet refrain. The first noticeable upgrade with this 2017 remaster is the double bass from Colin Edwin, you can really feel the strings, as if you are in the room with the band. If you have seen no-man live on one of their rare live performances over the past few years, Only Rain is one of the highlights.

Returning Jesus was the beginning of a drift away from more electronic recordings of the bands previous albums. No Defence, along with album closer All That You Are, have a feel of classic 50s or early 60s standards. Smoky trumpet and slide guitar adorn No Defence, one of the most wry songs on the album.

“Love it all. No Disgrace.”

Close Your Eyes, rescued from the earlier song Desert Heart, and expanded from the Carolina Skeletons EP, builds into one of the albums highlights, with some fine Steve Jansen percussion and a memorable Wilson guitar solo. The arrangement, especially the end section, is stunning. Close Your Eyes was a highlight on the 2012 no-man tour. If anyone has a recording of the song from that tour, please get in touch!

no-man yellow

The next couple of tracks are two of no-mans finest ballads. Carolina Skeletons is one of the most underrated no-man songs. If it doesn’t melt your heart, you need to visit a doctor. The production on Caroline Skeletons is top notch. Processed sounds mix with cleaner instrumentation, topped by Tim’s vocals (Wilson certainly knows how to mix his partner in crime perfectly).

Outside the Machine builds from a delicious Steve Jansen groove, whilst piano and fretless bass underpin one of Bowness’s best vocals. Its croon-central! The subtle vocal processing and backing vocal arrangement is a masterclass of how to convey emotion in a simple, direct way. The electronics and textures of the end section remind me a little of the David Bowie Outside album.

“You’re all lit up like catherine wheels. You’re all lit up, but you’re not real.”

Outside the Machine is a beautiful track, as is the title track to the album. One of the most discordant, unconventional tracks the band have recorded, Returning Jesus is also one of the most moving. A temporary return to electronica, the gamelan loop is inspired and when the layered strings, bass and guitar lines sweep into the song, there is a real magical feeling. As Returning Jesus progresses, a heavenly synth sequence ushers in the pleading Bowness “I don’t want to stay a million miles away” line.

I remember reading an interview with New Order’s Bernard Sumner, who described waking up to Winter in July by Bomb The Bass, and thinking he had gone to heaven. I get the same feeling whenever I hear the Returning Jesus title track – it simply has 3 or 4 moments where the song sends me to another place.

noman greenAfter the albums only instrumental, Slow It All Down, we come to another album, and indeed career, highlight from no-man. Lighthouse is my favourite no-man song, but strangely, not this version!

The studio version is the nearest to progressive rock no-man have released and appears to be a lot of fans favourite track on the album. Jansen’s drumming is out of this world, but for me the definitive version is the Lighthouse (First Demo) that appears on the second disc of this re-issue. I admit that the drum machine is no match for the album versions live drums, but the demo version sums up everything I love about no-man. And from 3 minutes 56, a much expanded (from the later version) mostly instrumental section, with an angular guitar line duelling with slowly building piano arpeggios, is one of my favourite pieces of music from any band, in any era. Every time I hear it, it sends shivers.

Back to the main album, All That You Are with its shuffling drums and rock ‘n roll ballad feel, is a fine end to the album.

Second disc highlights

The second disc (on the CD version) has a fine selection of EP tracks, demos and alternate versions from the Returning Jesus era. Something Falls is a return to the mostly beatless Speak era sound. Sometimes the most simple, stripped back arrangements can be as effective as a full-on mix, and that is certainly the case here.

I love the production on Until Tomorrow – banjo to one side, vocals to the other, a trick used in a lot of 60s recordings. It helps you concentrate on the individual performances with enhanced clarity. Chelsea Cap is one of the finest long-lost no-man tracks, with a great drum track, some wonderful organ and a chorus to die for. It could have easily made it to the main album.

Song About The Heart is an early version of the theme that became Lighthouse. Of the two versions of Darkroom on the second disc, I prefer the more twisted, almost Wild Opera-like alternate version.

Like A Child is a further exploration of the Close Your Eyes percussion with a Bowness vocal sample from the end of the same song. Slow It All Down (Long Version) is an interesting, very different version – more electronic than its disc one counterpart.

Another highlight of the second disc is All That You Are (Demo), with a similar arrangement, but feeling less nostalgic due to the more forceful drum pattern and synth strings. Its interesting how much of the arrangement was already decided in this demo version.

This is by far the best version of Returning Jesus. The 2017 Steven Wilson remaster delivers the definitive version of this classic no-man album.

Deluxe CD

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Burning Shed

CD 1 – Returning Jesus (2001):

1. Only Rain (7:24)
2. No Defence (5:20)
3. Close Your Eyes (8:25)
4. Carolina Skeletons (5:08)
5. Outside The Machine (5:46)
6. Returning Jesus (5:19)
7. Slow It All Down (3:42)
8. Lighthouse (8:12)
9. All That You Are (4:44)

CD 2 – EP Tracks/Demos/Alternate Versions (1994-2003)

1. Something Falls (3.34)
2. Close Your Eyes – 1998 EP version (7.47)
3. Carolina Reprise (3.00)
4. Until Tomorrow – Hi-Fi (2.59)
5. Chelsea Cap (5.25)
6. Darkroom (3.52)
7. Until Tomorrow – Lo-Fi (3.15)
8. Song About The Heart (2.48)
9. Lighthouse – First Demo (10.27)
10. Darkroom – Alternate Version (5.35)
11. Like A Child (4.10)
12. Chelsea Cap – Alternate Version (6.50)
13. Lighthouse – Second Demo (8.58)
14. Slow It All Down – Long Version (5.13)
15. All That You Are – Demo (4.36)

Vinyl: double 180g LP

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Burning Shed

side 1
1. only rain (7.24)
2. no defence (5.20)
3. close your eyes (8.25)

side 2
1. carolina skeletons (5.08)
2. outside the machine (5.46)
3. returning jesus (5.19)

side 3
1. slow it all down (3.42)
2. lighthouse (8.12)
3. all that you are (4.44)

side 4 – ep tracks:
1. something falls (3.34)
2. chelsea cap (5.25)
3. until tomorrow – hi-fi (2.59)
4. darkroom (3.52)
5. carolina reprise (3.00)





Tim Bowness – Songs From The Ghost Light

14 08 2017

Songs-from-the-Ghost-Light

Songs From The Ghost Light is a companion release to Tim Bowness’s Inside Out label albums, Abandoned Dancehall Dreams (2014), Stupid Things That Mean The World (2015) and this years wonderful Lost In The Ghost Light.

The 34 minute mini-album is available in limited quantities on CD & vinyl from Burning Shed, and as a download from Tim’s Bandcamp page.

Stupid Things That Mean The World (chamber version) is a stark re-imagining of the 2015 track. Stripped of the albums guitar and drums, piano and strings underpin the vocals, which have a dollop of extra reverb added, making this version a very different beast. A disturbing alternative synth line adds tension to the middle section of the song.

The live version of The Warm-Up Man Forever (the studio version appears on Abandoned Dancehall Dreams) features a stunning drum performance from Andrew Booker and a wonderful Experiment IV-like guitar line from Michael Bearpark. As an advert for the Tim Bowness live shows, the non-studio cuts on Songs From The Ghost Light do their job.

No Longer The One is a reworked, much less proggy version of the Henry Fool rarity Pills in the Afternoon. A more expansive guitar line and a richer arrangement and production take one of Tim’s finest hidden pieces to new heights. Its my favourite track on this mini-album.

Some T-bo trivia – No Longer The One was lyrically altered to work with the Moonshot / Jeff Harrison story. Expect an angry tweet from the ageing old Putin worhsipping Moonshotter soon!

Once A Record is a mutated piece of mellotron madness built from The Great Electric Teenage Dream. Whispers, off-kilter and digitally twisted vocals and dark electronics bubble under the surface of a track that would not have sounded out-of-place on David Bowie’s 1. Outside.

Next up is a live version of The Great Electric Teenage Dream. The version on Songs From The Ghost Light is faithful to the times I have heard the song live at recent Bowness shows. Its a powerful performance, with brutal guitar lines.

The polar opposite is The Sweetest Bitter Pill (chamber version). I prefer this take to the version previously released in 2014. Strings and mid-70s sounding lead synth lines push the songs melody to the fore.

The final live song is Abandoned Dancehall Dreams Dancing For You. One of Tim’s saddest songs of nostalgia and regret, Dancing For You is presented here in a moving live performance. A fine synth solo from Stephen Bennett drives the song to its conclusion.

Giancarlo Erra (Nosound/Memories Of Machines) contributes piano to the album’s closing track Lost In The Ghost Light (giallo), as well as mixing and mastering the album. Kit Watkins adds flute and ‘Heartbeat’ percussion to the discordant re-birth of what was already the most menacing piece on this years wonderful Lost In The Ghost Light album.

“Is there more?”

No Longer The One, The Sweetest Bitter Pill (chamber version) and Lost In The Ghost Light (giallo) actually surpass their original incarnations as far as I am concerned. Songs From The Ghost Light works well as a companion to Tim’s successful Inside Out era albums, making you return to the originals whilst working well as an album in its own right.

Stupid Things That Mean The World (chamber version)
The Warm-Up Man Forever (live)
No Longer The One
Once A Record
The Great Electric Teenage Dream (live)
The Sweetest Bitter Pill (chamber version)
Dancing For You (live)
Lost In The Ghost Light (giallo)

Buy the CD and vinyl from Burning Shed

Buy the Download from Tim’s Bandcamp page








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