Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Downes Braide Association - Skyscraper Souls

When we are teenagers popular music is the narrative of our youth. I was a teenager when popular music was exploding, developing endless possibilities. As one grows older you realise it was THE time to be a teenager and the real wisdom is to see the 60's/70's and those possibilities as THE answers. 

What can we honestly expect now, post scripts choreographed bucket listed unfinished business, for me that is the best we can expect, and yet this new offering does something else. It plays to a narrative with every bit as much power and connection as the narrative of youth. 

At the risk of not appearing to value the beautiful arrangements and playing, which are of the highest standard, I find myself riveted by the lyrical journey. 

From the searing emotional refections of prelude to the atmospheric ocean tide section of  the long title track one is caught by something I feel very close to "Life is to be Lived Not Avoided" and if it is we will be buffeted by the kind of emotional insights reflected in these thoughtful beautiful lyrics which are delivered with a real emotional power.  


"This is a song for those who never stop believing", "even when life seems so unfair" 

Skyscraper Souls 

"If we can't turn back the clock searching for a place called home". 

"Ocean child take me away from all the madness we are one we are one" 

"Just keep turning on this rock" ... "with our Skyscraper Souls"

Skin Deep 

With a great vocal from Marc Almond.

"pulling you in better watch out" "it might spit you out again" "well you wanted love when you felt so alone" "I know whats behind this indestructible"  

The lyrics speak to those deep into there lives who hold on to the magic of the 1970's when demanding music was the thing and an 18 minute track like the title track was de rigour and where their personal lives are a metaphor for that yearning that searching for more than a 3 minute answer where dangers and disappointments abound as well as wonderful revelations. 

When you consider the blurb and the inclusion of very idiosyncratic talents like Kate Pierson and Marc Almond you might think the music might display a slightly fragmented vision but their contributions simply strengthen a cohesive and clearly developed musical foot print. Andy Partridge's guitar support is just that and you do not find yourself thinking thats A P instead you simple feel the playing is highly sympathetic. Indeed on "Darker Times" the vocal arrangement puts me in mind of the work with Andy Paley on Brian's "Getting Over My Head".

Music journalists need labels "pop progressive", "80's pop" to steer people and reference.     

For me this is just music, at 5.15 and at 6.40 the instrumental work on the title track becomes internalised and complex and shows a sophistication which adds to the growing sense of collective journey but I do not see it as a prog fix, just music. Did a few of AP's licks echo the late Peter Banks ...YES. Like all really great music its not an exercise in instrumental gymnastics its making a point reprising building strengthening the sense of a special cohesive journey which takes twists and turns to reach its conclusion. The great strengthen of the title track is it has that twin effect of feeling over in a flash but whilst you are inside it, time stands still. 

"We are mountain climbers you and I" as the music builds to a crescendo from about the 10 minute mark.before falling away at the 13.22 mark to Ocean Child achingly beautiful. Right now this piece is the best extended work the most satisfying the most emotionally engaged since .......whenever. 

So great humanist lyrics which make you smile, cry, yearn and reflect offered in a highly sophisticated sound palette.  

Side B is not a retread of the first two albums because of the support from the players rather than machines it sounds warmer and packs more punch.For me the stand out piece from this section is "Skin Deep" with a magnificent contribution from Marc Almond a great tune and arrangement but it is the vocal narrative dripping in emotional resonance which lifts this piece to another level. 

Pieces like "Tomorrow" remind you of Geoffs capacity for finding great melodies. It has a nagging echo of something off the second Asia album indeed the vocal progression echoes the more robust style of the late John Wetton, I am certain this is because David Langdon is singing unison vocals with Chris giving the vocal slightly more weight. David also plays some lovely baroque wind on this piece. Similarly "Lighthouse" sounds like a high quality offering from either of the first two albums except Tim Bowness produces some wonderful counter point and harmony vocals giving the music more character. 

"Dark Times", probably because of the spoken introduction, feels more akin to the title track and the lyrics have that melancholy quality that informs the latter. For me the vocal arrangement match the kind of thing that Brian W can find in his reservoir of genius.The "What energy" section with its squiggly sumptuous counterpoint horn playing is, if you want to make a comparison, pure "Smile" 

So to the finale reprising those key vocal themes "searching for a place called home with our skyscraper souls". Beautiful.

My heartfelt thanks to Chris and Geoff for investing so much passion and dedication to this project which for this listener is exactly what I need and is more than mere unfinished business or bucket listing it is for us now.    


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