As others have mentioned previously, Dead Bees on a Cake was Sylvian’s long-awaited follow up to the near masterpiece Secrets of the Bee Hive, as well as a spiritual and sensual ode to his wife and muse Ingrid Chavez... It is the combination of these disparate factors that accounts for the wavering, dreamlike quality that the songs possess, with Sylvian never sticking to one style... always moving, experimenting and re-examining the music that came before. It can be inconsistent listen to an infuriating degree; though songs like I Surrender, Midnight Sun and Café Europa more than justify the price of admission.
Things kick of in a grand fashion with the nine and a half-minute epic I Surrender, in which Sylvain paints a portrait of inner-city life and love with the sounds of metropolitan jazz. The result is pitched somewhere between early Miles Davis, Tom Waits and even shades of Chris Rea, though with the trademark Sylvian touch of impassive, moody vocals and swirling, nocturnal lyrics elevating it beyond the realms of the MOR top-forty. Dobro #1 and Midnight Sun are both densely atmospheric Americana retreads, with Sylvian not sounding too far from M. Ward on his End of Amnesia LP, as he spins his lyrics over a strangely timeless bed of instrumentation, which could have easily been recorded one-hundred years ago...
Other standout tracks include the mournful Shining of Things, which looks back to the melancholic string arrangements found on Beehive, and the jazz-tinged travelogue (and aforementioned) Café Europa, in which Sylvian’s lyrics are like Dylan’s on Blonde on Blonde; mixing epic narrative rumination with surreal bursts of profound poetry. Pollen Path is a loud and freewheeling blast of post-punk noise, which does seem like something of an anachronism when placed between the more reflective, horn-lead numbers... whilst Wanderlust is one of the greatest examples of dreamy guitar pop to never bother the UK top ten.
The two final tracks bring the album to a close wonderfully, with the spiritual Islamic (don’t quote me on that) prayer Praise seeing Sylvian team with vocalist Shree Maa to create a beautiful and haunting song which prefigures the untitled tracks on Sigur Ros’s bracket’s album (in terms of divine, heavenly nonsense that is). Meanwhile, final track Darkest Dreaming is a classic Sylvian nighttime exploration of poetry and ambience that is not too far removed from something like Brilliant Trees or Nostalgia. Dead Bees on a Cake is a good album, filled with wonderful moments that are too often is hampered by a few inconsistent duds that brings down the final rating from a five to a four.
It is hardly surprising to find some off numbers in a record of this size and scope, with Sylvian creating an epic to no doubt make up for lost time... At this length, Sylvian could of easily shaved off four or five tracks and created a nine-piece masterpiece which created a mood that was un-broken by bouts of wildly self-indulgent experimentation. That said, most CD players do come with a skip button, and the tracks name checked previously are classics, in their own right... and at this current price too!! Why not give it a go.