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A Cumbersome and Undifferentiated Musical Geology
on 3 January 2012
I really tried to like this CD. But, as usual, Sylvian confounds expectations by, for me, producing the best tracks at the very end.
Released in 1999, `Dead Bees on a Cake' was Sylvian's most `American' set to date. And indeed the opening of the first track, the nine-minute `I Surrender' - a tale of a melancholic epiphany - reminded me of Barry White (yes, that's right!), with its quasi-spoken vocal style. But Sylvian-mode soon kicks in as deep strings, flute, and flugelhorn are supported by a slow and steady beat.
Track two is an old American Mid-West blues ballad with an appropriate Dobro guitar, and then we're into traditional blues in track three. (The joys of melancholy pervade many of the songs on this CD. Printed so small on the sleevenotes as to be easily missed, is a quote from American poet Robert Hass: "If we make a poem of celebration, it has to include a lot of darkness for it to be real.") Track four is another slow, sparse, steady beat on which Sylvian sings and various instruments float. But the ear soon tires of this percussive style as song after song is constructed on its foundation.
A short diversion with a Vangelis-style short ballad - too short - in `Alphabet Angel' leads to the first of two tracks that have overt links with the music of the Indian subcontinent. The first of these, `Krishna Blue', does nothing for me; the second, `All of My Mother's Names', is better with its increased improvisation and interesting sounds.
At the very heart of the CD, and a track that is itself full of heart, is `The Shining of Things': just Sylvian and strings give vent on a beautiful ballad.
In `Pollen Path' the style switches again - to rock! But even this, alas, has the same ponderous beat as earlier tracks. But as the album draws to a close, veils are drawn and beauty has a more vibrant edge. Whilst the seeming tedious beat that underlies the whole album is still present in `Wanderlust', the singing has more vigour than before. The penultimate track, `Praise', is haunting, but the highlight of the whole album lies at its end. It is no peroration; no natural denouement for all that has gone before. Rather, this five-star track, `Darkest Dreaming', with its more than haunting guitarwork, with Sylvian's perfect pitch of voice, affects me, moves me deeply every time. It is a troubling yet re-assuring epiphany that seems at odds with the sorrow and - let's face it - banality of the rest of the album.
So, the set for this CD does not gel for me. It has a lack of passion. Its seventy minutes of cumbersome and undifferentiated musical geology, interspersed with only modest diamonds of light, contrasts markedly with previous work that adopted scintillating and complex soundworlds. The final track aside, there is not much here that inspires. Four stars - just.