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'Astral Weeks' of the Eighties?,
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This review is from: Brilliant Trees (Audio CD)
David Sylvian's debut from 1984 remains an undoubted classic. The break between 'Tin Drum'/'Oil on Canvas' & this album, though only a year or so, had given Sylvian chance to grow & develop. The supporting cast- including Ryuichi Sakamoto, Danny Thompson, Mark Isham, Steve Jansen, Holger Czuckay & Richard Barbieri all add wonderfully to the record.
'Pulling Punches' is a more organic continuation of the rockier end of Japan- such as 'The Art of Parties'. It also reminds me of 'Scary Monsters'-Bowie & 'Lightning Strikes' by The Clash. It would be the last time Sylvian would 'rock out' til 'The First Day'...'The Ink in the Well' contrasts with this, a mellow lull aided by Thompson's jazzy double bass. Think Scott Walker sings Tim Buckley (in blue). Sylvian, still kind of a pop-star, singing about Picasso (It seems 80's popstars had musical ambitions, rather than commercial ones)...'Nostalgia' takes an Oriental vocal & the type of ambient space of 'My New Career'& 'A Foreign Place'to fresh lengths. It provided title for the Japan compilation 'Exorcising Ghosts' & seems to be doing just that. Along with the later 'Maria' & 'Godman' it seems to be taking the template of 'Ghosts' to previously uncharted territories. 'Red Guitar' is one of Sylvian's great songs; the piano has a warm jazzy feel- the song itself has the drama of a Bond theme & the brilliant, resigned "It's been this way for years"...'Weathered Wall' continues the Yellow Magic/Sakamoto-inflections of 'Bamboo Houses/Music' & 'Taking Islands in Africa'. Co-written with Jon Hassell, it takes us to the kind of ambient plain Eno dreamt up a few decades ago. 'Backwaters', with a co-vocal by Can's Holger Czuckay, predicts the sinister minimalism & vocal interplay (beauty with alien) found on early Tricky records ('Aftermath'; 'Ponderosa'; 'Makes me Wanna Die'). The Krautrock keyboard repetition finally gives way to the closing title track. Has there ever been a more sublime song? (Hardly...)Sylvian's vocal is set to strings of keyboards for most of the song, building on songs such as 'Ghosts' & 'Forbidden Colours'. This one sounds like the fade of lights, the passage of time, the remembrance of things past. Percussion arrives, this is a song that you could imagine wanting to last forever: "Raise my hands up to heaven/But only you could know/My whole world stands in front of me/ By the look in your eye"...
'Brilliant Trees' is one of those wonderful albums, contender for the 'Astral Weeks' of the Eighties. It is waiting for another, more deserving audience. I think Radiohead owe a debt to it. A brilliant record by a consistently brilliant artist.