First up, let me say that I have been a devoted fan of DCD since the early 1980s, and I have all their solo recordings (although not all of Gerrard's many film scores) too. So this is a great year for me: a new album and a world tour.
I was tempted to say that the title of the review is enough: if you know the band, you will know what you're getting. However, that's not enough, for two reasons. Firstly, which DCD is this? The goth orchestral group of Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun (Remastered)
, the medieval group of Aion
or the world music mashup group of Spiritchaser
(Answer, it's the latter)? Secondly, it's been so long since the last album that a whole generation has grown up without the band that it's worth writing a more extensive review in the hope that others will discover a truly unique band.
Dead Can Dance are Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry. Gerrard is a singer with an almost supernatural voice - her range and ability to change tone make her virtually incomparable in 'popular' music - only Elizabeth Fraser comes close. She is also now an accomplished composer and collaborator, her work on the Gladiator
soundtrack being her big breakthrough. Brendan Perry is a different character altogether - a multi-instrumentalist with a particular fascination for rhythm and 'blessed' with a voice made for a goth opera, he has always been the less prominent member of the pair, but it's clear from their solo work that Perry brings a huge amount to the party.
The good news is that this is everything that a Dead Can Dance album should be - the rich orchestration, the pounding drums, Brendan Perry fighting his corner, and Lisa Gerrard doing her beautiful, miraculous thing.
But what kind of record is this? Well, in truth it feels like two albums stitched together. The tracks on which Gerrard sings sound very much like DCD's last album Spiritchaser - a perfect mixture of Gerrard's spectral vocals, middle-eastern orchestration and heavy and complex percussion. Honestly, no-one has ever come close to bettering these guys, and thirty years on from their first success, a fair few have tried.
Perry's tracks are more of a mixed bag. He is clearly insistent on having an equal contribution vocally, which seems unwise when one is going up against one of the greatest singers of all time. What Perry's rather more basic singing does is highlight the simple song structures that he employs. 'Opium' uses a repetitive descending minor chord sequence that you've heard a thousand times before: DCD have always used simple chord sequences repeated ad infinitum, but Gerrard's melodies overcame any weakness in that approach; here Perry's voice and melodies cannot hide the occasional lack of a creative spark. Nonetheless, if you like Perry's solo album Ark
, then you will like his contributions here.
Penultimate track 'Return of the She-King' stands out from the rest, being the one track where both singers contribute lead vocals, and having a significant change of tone. The track leads with pipes and a celtic feel. When Gerrard sings, it is very reminiscent of DCD's 'early music' period. That's no bad thing, except that now I am listening to The Serpent's Egg
rather than the new album, which isn't so good. I'm still undecided on this track - it's the one time when the percussion track is banal, and it makes the music feel ever so slightly 'twee manufactured celtic pop' when Gerrard is not singing.
This is a Dead Can Dance album - praise be! - but so far it has not grabbed by heart and mind like most of the others. But I will give it plenty of time. They are a unique blending of talents and sensibilities, and they certainly deserve my - and your - attention.