|11-16-2022, 09:35 PM||#52 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
So, after two pages of nonsense banter (I swear, anyone would think the name of this forum was Music Bant - um, yeah) and a whole lot of Star Trek into the bargain, time for another dip into the shattered, bloody and broken remains of my first ever journal. Ah, was I ever that young? No. No I was not. But this comes from almost exactly nine years ago, so, you know...
Originally posted November 5 2013 in The Playlist of Life
Hai Hai - Roger Hodgson - 1987 (A&M)
After his amazing debut solo album In the Eye of the Storm, released three years prior, it looked like big things could happen for this man. After all, he was the voice of Supertramp: it's not like people didn't recognise him when he sang. All the boppy, uptempo hit singles Supertramp released had him on vocals - "The Logical Song", "Breakfast in America", "Dreamer", even the later hit "It's Raining Again", just before his departure from the band he had spent over a decade with, had his dulcet tones on it - but he sort of shot himself in the foot a little by releasing an album that, while truly excellent, had only six tracks and none of those anything under five minutes. Didn't quite make for singles material, did it? So no hit singles from the debut. Had he learned a lesson? Well, perhaps. 1987 and back he came with his second solo effort, this time a more balanced album in terms of tracks, with ten in all, and nothing much over five minutes. More commercially appealing stuff too, with the heavy progressive rock feel that characterised the debut largely jettisoned in favour or shorter, more accessible songs, something similar to what Marillion did on Fugazi, though they didn't change their sound, just the length and number of tracks, which worked for them, gaining them a hit single.
There is however a problem with this album. Unlike Marillion, who stuck for four or five years at least to their core sound, Roger Hodgson decided the time had come to change things up, so he mostly abandoned the clearly Supertramp-lite sound that had run all the way through In the Eye of the Storm and seems to have actively tried to write hit singles. Bad idea, Rog! Nobody out there who wasn't a fan of Supertramp knew him, despite his being gone solo in the game for three years at this stage, and those that did know him wanted - demanded - the Supertramp sound. He basically seems to have ignored this, and went his own way, resulting in an album that's not at all bad, but quite hit and miss, and not what you'd call a worthy successor to his first.
It starts off well, with the characterisic sound of Supertramp, the harmonica, and a bouncy beat as "Right Place" gets us started, little tinkly synthesisers and a soaring guitar, but it's lighter than anything on the previous album. The lyric is a little lightweight and over-clever - "Put it in the right place/ Get into the right space/ Don't turn into a headcase/ Move it at your own pace" and lots of other words rhyming with "ace". Thick growling snappy synth peppers the song but it's a good opener. Not so much so for "My Magazine", where Rog tries to go all hard rock, with a snarling guitar (what? Supertamp never had snarling guitars!) and a sort of bluesy feel, and not a harmonica in sight. On this one I feel Roger tries to be Robert Plant, but fails utterly. Mind you, it's nowhere near as bad as the godawful "London", where he tries his hand at (oh no!) reggae! Now I don't like reggae as a genre, but even I know when it's done well it can sound really effective and this, well, just doesn't. It's almost like he said to himself, "we should have a reggae song on the album". Why? There's no justification for it, but that doesn't stop him, and he proceeds to perform one of the worst hatchet jobs on the music of the islands I have ever had the misfortune to hear.
Thankfully, things pick up after that, with the sublime semi-ballad "You Make Me Love You", which has all the characteristics of the classic Supertramp melded with the best of the Cars. His mellifluous voice really comes through on this song, and the backing vocals (mostly his own) give a nice solid flavour to the track. The title is the close this album comes to progressive rock, with a big roaring vocal opening which recalls the opening of his debut album, then the welcome return of harmonica and some great Fairlight programming that sounds like fast, laboured breathing with bouncing synth bass hopping all over the place. Somewhat unfortunately though, after the promising opening the song breaks down into a fairly basic pop song, with all the prog rock - or indeed, any rock - removed from it. Well, that's not fair: the guitar is pretty rockin', but the synth really takes over the tune. It does however bop along nicely, even if the chorus is a little lacking, just the title repeated. There's some nice brass-like synthwork and the vocal is good, and there does at least seem like there's some real emotion in it.
The same can't sadly be said of "Who's Afraid?", which is really quite weak, a soft pop ditty with an almost nursery-rhyme shape to it. Listening to this album, it's almost, though not quite, like witnessing Genesis slide ever deeper into pop as they abandoned their rock roots. Even the rhythm here is kind of a cross of Steve Miller's "Abracadabra" and Chris Rea's "I Can Hear Your Heartbeat". Again I stress, it's not a bad song, not at all. It's just a little fluffy and lightweight compared to what I had come to expect from this powerhouse of progressive rock. Mind you, one place where Hodgson will always excel is in writing beautiful ballads. The previous album had the lovely "Lovers in the Wind" and the spectacular epic "Only Because of You", and this time out we get two more, perhaps not of the calibre of the latter, but certainly superb songs. The first is "Desert Love", which opens on a nice strummed guitar with a satisfied exhalation like "Ahh!" then brings in soft, silvery synth and trilling guitar as Roger launches into another great solo love song. The chorus, set against a grinding guitar and high-pitched synth, reeks of desperation and yearning.
"Land Ho!" sounds just like a Supertramp song, and indeed it is. Written in 1974 with his then-songwriting partner Rick Davies, it's a boppy, happy, upbeat song that really lifts the mood after "Desert Love" and even the lacklustre "Who's Afraid?", but you have to ask yourself the question: if he's trying to make it on his own, put to some extent his Supertramp past behind him, why use an old song he wrote over fifteen years ago? Is he just playing to the Supertramp crowd here, or paying respect back to his origins? Either way, it's a great little track, replete with the hallmarks of his erstwhile band - jumping, jangling piano, saxophone and killer hooks - you can almost hear Davies singing it with him, and the quality just gets better with the standout of the album, in "House on the Corner". Utilising a basic melody or rhythm I've heard somewhere before, but still haven't been able to identify to this day, it's a powerful, radio-friendly song that really should have been a single, and has a great chorus, with the verses almost elongated as Hodgson sings them. It just makes you want to move your feet, and the whistling keyboard running through it just adds the final touch. It could however finish much better.
After all that, the album winds down in somewhat of a low-key fashion with the second ballad, the morose and I would have to say bitter "Puppet Dance", driven on piano and synthesiser which certainly recalls the Supertramp sound, though this is more a song I would expect to hear Davies sing, were it a Supertramp one. For an album that is generally more full of upbeat songs, it's something of a shock to hear this as the thing comes to a close, leaving you with something of a conflict in your emotions; the last few songs have put you in a good mood and you're ready to go out on a high, then the big comedown arrives in the form of this sad little ballad. Odd choice.
1. Right Place
2. My Magazine
4. You Make Me Love You
5. Hai Hai
6. Who's Afraid?
7. Desert Love
8. Land Ho!
9. House on the Corner
10. Puppet Dance
I wouldn't say I was disappointed with this album, but it does confuse. The debut was pure prog rock and hung together really well, whereas this jumps from pop to rock to pop and back, making it hard to get a real handle on it. I suppose in some ways it must have been an attempt to really get his career off the ground, after three years of nothing much happening, but if so then Roger Hodgson went the wrong way, in my opinion. His fanbase had come from Supertramp and they did not want to hear pop songs and love songs; he abandoned the basic Supertramp sound and tried to spread his wings, perhaps too far too soon, and sort of came crashing down. He didn't release another album until 2001, which surely tells its own story.
These days it seems he makes his money by returning to playing to the gallery, covering his own songs and other Supertramp ones in his concerts, and has issued albums of such material. Maybe it's best he stay doing that. For me, when I want to hear the Roger Hodgson who was at the time in my opinion on the cusp of greatness, with the world at his feet, I'll put on the debut album, and though I'll listen to this on and off, it will always be In the Eye of the Storm I return to.
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|11-20-2022, 10:20 AM||#53 (permalink)|
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
And all the way back to almost the beginning...
Posted July 17 2011 in The Playlist of Life
Note: As you can see, this was written eleven years ago now, and seven after the album had been released. Everyone expected it to have been the band's final album, until they foisted upon us the piece of pointless nostalgia that went under the banner of their actual swansong on The Endless River, nearly three decades after this album, so anything I say below about it being their last album was, at the time, true. I can't see the future.
The Division Bell - Pink Floyd - 1994 (EMI)
The second Pink Floyd album released without founder member Roger Waters, and the last ever released by the band, The Division Bell was highly criticised on its release, both on the grounds that it was recorded just to make money, and that the band no longer cared about their music. Although 1987's A Momentary Lapse of Reason was a little hit-and-miss in places, with perhaps too many standalone instrumentals and not enough full compositions, I found this album to be far superior, and one look at the writing talent and creative process on it is, to me, enough to give the lie to at least the second part of that accusation.
Helmed mostly by, as would be expected, successor to the Floyd throne David Gilmour, the album is not overly guitar heavy, relying a lot on the expressive keyboard work of the late Richard Wright, but is chock-full of meaning and emotion, in a way that the previous album did not seem to be. To my mind, Division Bell is much more Final Cut than Momentary Lapse. It opens, like its predecessor seven years ago, with an instrumental, and indeed similar to that album it's an instrumental that starts very low, with the sound of what could be oars cutting through water, joined by the swirling, almost hypnotic keyboards of Wright, then the sharp, clear piano notes joined by Gilmour's mournful guitar as the tune takes on a slight resemblance to the opening parts to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, introducing the first real track, “What Do You Want from Me”, where we can hear Gilmour's voice is in fine fettle, and despite criticism aimed at him I think his guitar work has never sounded better.
The album's main concept is agreed as being one of communication, or the failure to talk, and many of the songs reflect this, including this, as Gilmour snaps ”Should I stand out in the rain?/ Do want me to make a daisy chain for you?/ You're so hard to read!” Great backing vocals on this track, in proper Floyd fashion, help add real atmosphere to the song, and its themes continue in “Poles Apart”, a jangly, almost upbeat track with dark overtones, as Gilmour asks ”Did you know it was all going to go/ So wrong for you?” Much more than Momentary Lapse I feel each track here is a strong composition, even the two instrumentals, of which “Marooned”, essentially a vehicle for Gilmour's spellbinding guitar playing, is the next, but it's “A Great Day for Freedom” where the ghost of Waters really walks the grooves of this record, as Floyd chart the fall of the Berlin Wall and its aftermath, noting with acid derision how happy everyone was on that night, and how the dream turned, for many, to nightmare very quickly.
”On the day the Wall came down/ They threw the locks onto the ground/ And with glasses high we raised a cry/ For freedom had arrived..../ Promises lit up the night/ Like paper doves in flight.” The initial euphoria of the collapse of Communism and the Eastern Bloc is contrasted sharply with the subsequent wars for independence, racial tensions, ethnic cleansings and social unrest that followed. The song is mostly carried on Wright's lonely piano, tinkling like the fading echoes of the bells of freedom as they recede into memory and the mists of history. ”Now frontiers drift like desert sands/ As nations wash their bloodied hands/ Of loyalty and history/ In shades of grey.” Possibly one of the most honest and factual accounts of the events post-collapse of the Wall, with another sterling solo from Gilmour to end the track, and definitely place this as one of the best on the album.
We get to hear Rick Wright sing for the first time since Dark Side of the Moon and sadly also the last ever time, as not only was this Floyd's last album together, but Wright died in 2008 of cancer. The melody almost seems cognisant of this (though of course that's not the case), with sad saxophone, dour drums and muted guitar taking “Wearing the Inside Out” along, with again some powerful backing vocals. Even the lyric seems, in hindsight, prophetic: ”My skin is cold to the human touch/ This beating heart/ Not beating much.” Some of Wright's best keyboard work characterises this track too, fittingly, recalling the glory days of Dark Side and The Wall. Things speed up then for “Take it Back”, as close to a straight-ahead rocker as there is on the album, while “Coming Back to Life” wins my award for best track on the album, with its slow, sad, agonised guitar opening and its anguished demand ”Where were you when I was/ Burned and broken?/ While the days slipped by/ From my window, watching?” before it picks up and becomes a mid-paced rocker.
“Keep Talking”, emphasising and confirming the central theme of the album, features the sampled voice of Professor Stephen Hawking, adding great weight and gravitas to the track, and putting forward the welcome belief that everything will be all right as long as we continue to talk to each other. ”It doesn't have to be like this/ All we have to do is make sure/ We keep talking.” Words to live by. Rather giving the lie to that however is the sound of a slamming door opening the penultimate track, “Lost for Words”, and mournful keyboards joined by acoustic guitar in a reflective look at life: ”I was spending my time in the doldrums/ I was caught in a cauldron of hate/ I felt persecuted and paralysed/ Thought that everything else could just wait/ While you are wasting your time on your enemies/ Engulfed in a fever of spite/ Beyond your tunnel vision reality fades/ Like shadows into the night.” Samples overlay the track, transmissions and conversations, including the recording of a boxing match, and the reality of the world intrudes to show that though YOU may have seen the light, that doesn't necessarily mean everyone else has, as noted in the end lyric: ”So I open my doors to my enemies/ And I ask could we wipe the slate clean?/ But they tell me to please go and **** myself/ You know, you just can't win!”
Sobering words, and the closer comes in, and indeed fades out, on the distant peals of church bells, evoking both the title and also the line from Dark Side's track “Home Again” - ”Far away, across the fields/ The tolling of the iron bell/ Calls the faithful to their knees/ To hear the softly spoken magic spells.” In the same way that “Sorrow” closed A Momentary Lapse of Reason on a sour, morose note, “High Hopes” fades the album out on a less than optimistic thought, leaving us with what is a far superior album to the previous, but as a swansong for Pink Floyd, perhaps a better last track might have been in order? Doesn't detract from the fact that this is a fine ending for a band who had been together through four decades, and produced some of the classic albums of both the seventies and eighties, and who shaped and changed the musical perception of more than one generation.
1. Cluster One
2. What Do You Want from Me?
3. Poles Apart
5. A Great Day for Freedom
6. Wearing the Inside Out
7. Take it Back
8. Coming Back to Life
9. Keep Talking
10. Lost for Words
11. High Hopes
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018