on 14 May 2011
Mike Batt can be a bit hit-and-miss. It's sometimes hard to believe that the composer of such lyrical gems as Bright Eyes (Watership Down), Caravans, the Wombling Song, and the delightful concept album The Hunting of the Snark is also the man behind such mediocrity as Six Days in Berlin. Arabesque, one of his lesser-known albums, perfectly encapsulates this: some tracks simply sank without trace, such as the instrumental title track Arabesque, and the sickeningly sentimental Let It Be In Your Arms; but there are also gems here that make the whole album worthwhile. The highlight for me was the haunting Amy Floats Downstream - simple, slightly cryptic lyrics that take on a sudden poignancy once you discover what the song is about. The lilting Don't Trust the Angels makes great night-time driving music (with Midge Ure providing the guitar solo!); and of course, there's Closest Thing to Crazy, elevated to classic status ten years later by Batt's protegé Katie Melua.
There's a nice mix of lyrics and instrumental tracks, many of them shot through with Batt's trademark blend of Middle-Eastern melody and symphonic orchestration. The sleeve-note blandly comments "Digitally recorded at Dining Room Studios, London"; turns out that this little-known studio is, in fact, Mike Batt's dining-room. He explains: "I recorded this album almost entirely at home ... even gradually plucking up courage to bring the orchestra into my house, eight at a time, to record their tracks. The 'cello section of the National Symphony Orchestra in your kitchen is a great experience - except you can't open the fridge." I'd have to say, the sound quality is remarkably good for a home-recorded album!
All-in-all, I'd recommend it. While it's not up to the standard of albums such as Schizophonia or Waves, it's worth it for a few hidden gems.