1960s singer-songwriter Kevin Ayers sings 'Funny how the situation changes', at the start of The Unfairground, his first album for fifteen years. How true that appears to be, given the biographical facts surrounding this formerly psychedelic, and almost mythic, ex-Soft Machine operator. Running to seed, as the story goes, in the south of France, he gets re-discovered, hauled back to the UK and a batch of new songs - recorded on the hoof in a range of locations - is conjured around Ayers' wry, addictive, but ever so slightly broken, vocals.
And what a result! Although no Joy Of A Toy - Ayers' 1969 crazed, poetic, tour de force - The Unfairground is a compelling return, with songs covering the usual suspect narratives of girl lost/girl found, wrists nearly slit, ageing and having a good time disgracefully. His lyrics are, as hoped, top notch, going down memory lane on 'Only Heaven Knows', beseeching a lover to return on the exquisitely beguiling 'Baby Come Home', and on the album's centrepiece, 'Brainstorm', a claustrophobic, almost paranoid, lyric cries for the dream to live on, or!'a storm could just blow me away'.
Beside Ayers' undemonstrative, even flat, but always beguiling, delivery, the music arrangements are top notch throughout. A Spanish feel predominates from what sounds like a Mexican bass band and flamenco guitar, laid over a range of styles from whimsical guitar-based picking to country music, and to the discordantly bitter sweet, rather faded charms, of the British fairground.
The return of Kevin Ayers might not trigger a riot, but on this form its reason to get very excited indeed. --Charles De Ledesma
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