5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Brave, edgy and wonderful.,
This review is from: Stranger Comes To Town (Audio CD)
Steve Harley's first studio album since 2005's excellent 'The Quality of Mercy' does not disappoint. He has created a personal, ambitious and thought-provoking set of 10 brand new songs that boast all the qualities those familiar with his music are well used to - excellent musicianship, unique vocals and poetic lyrics.
Passion, power, intrigue, beauty, subtlety . . . it's all here, but don't expect it to jump up and bite you on first listening. We live in a world of instant gratification and throw away convenience, but this work has not been dumbed down for the X factor masses. No sound bites, no spin, no gimmicks. This is serious song writing. It's a ten course meal without a fast food burger in sight, and it will satisfy anyone with an appetite for quality ingredients and the time to sit at the table.
The opening track 'Faith & Virtue' provides an upbeat and accessible start to the album. 'Take The Men & The Horses Away' keeps up the bright opening tempo, although it's punchy rhythm masks some blunt, bleak lyrics.
Track 3, the intriguingly named 'For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.', signals a change of pace. It's a song of true beauty, and beautiful simplicity, with the mellow side of Steve Harley's multifaceted voice gently caressing every syllable. Delicate and crystal-clear piano provides perfect punctuation.
Next up is the towering title track 'Stranger Comes To Town', which manages to successfully blend both power and melancholy, and gives a marvelous platform for Harley's unique voice. This is an arresting and brave piece that would not be out of place on a Tom Waits album, yet I doubt even if Waits himself could sing it any better.
If you haven't twigged by now that you're listening to something special then the next offering, 'This Old Man', should hit home. It achieves that unique quality of understated power that seems almost unique to Steve Harley's music. Soaring vocals positively drip with the singer's personal involvement in the subject of the lyrics, yet never once does it seem forced, exaggerated or anything other than completely sincere. Played out against the rise and fall of Barry Wickens' master violin playing, this is a beautiful and moving song.
Track 6 is a delightful feel-good cover of Daniel Johnston's 'True Love Will Find You In The End' that leaves you craving for more. It precedes, and certainly doesn't prepare you for, perhaps the album's most curious track - 'No Bleeding Hearts'. A becalmed acoustic guitar (played by Harley) gentley introduces at least incarnation number 5 of Steve Harley's voice. It's another vocal masterpiece, simple yet compelling, that carries a twist in the tail with a complex drum/guitar/synth/piano outro reminiscent in parts of Bowie's Diamond Dogs chaos.
'Blinded with Tears' picks up the pace and the volume again, with drums and rasping electric guitar driving the song forward. Steve's fine musicians all get a slice of the action on this one, and if it makes it to the live set in the forthcoming tour it will be loud! The tempo doesn't drop for the penultimate track - 'Before They Crash The Universe' - James Lascelles given wonderful licence to weave his keyboard magic through the song.
And so to the final and (arguably) best track - the apocolyptic '2,000 Years From Now'. Some of the grandeur of Steve Harley's earlier work with Cockney Rebel is hinted at in this complex, foreboding yet ultimately rousing warning of mankind's future. A truly majestic piece with an abrupt and disturbing finale, it brings to a close a remarkable album by a musician who still has plenty to say, and the drive and passion to say it.
This is a highly original and gripping album from a fine song writer who is in complete control of his craft. It is edgy, demanding, at times challenging and ultimately completely rewarding. Ephemeral pop this certainly isn't, so don't expect this CD to provide background wallpaper music while you busy yourself with the DIY. It demands - and is deserving of - your full attention.
The musicians bring their considerable talents to the table, but it is Steve Harley's extraordinary vocals that brand this album and bring distinction to every track. He has the bravery and confidence to deploy his voice in ever more dramatic and varied ways, building up layers of texture, meaning and emotion in a manner equivalent to a grand master artist committing paint to a canvas.
If you've got Athena prints on your living room wall this album might not be the one for you. But if you appreciate getting up close and personal to the original brush strokes of masters, then step inside this man's work. It's wonderful.