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I don't believe it.
on 4 May 2004
Ever broken up with a wife? Or a long-term girlfriend? How did it make you feel? Pretty low? Start losing touch with reality? Or full of the joys of spring? I guess it affects us all in different ways. It sent John Martyn into a fit of raging creativity which resulted in this fantastic album, complete with the staggeringly wondrous drumming of an equally distraught Phil Collins. Which is a bit odd.
Martyn's music is pretty moody - "Solid Air" is THE 3 a.m. album. But I've never tried listening to this at 3 a.m. It'd scare the hell out me - I'd be terrified of ex-girlfriends crawling out from under the bed to get me. Martyn faces up to his own demons here only after he's travelled through self-loathing (for the first four tracks) and denial (for the next three - and what tracks!) with his admission "You didn't get it all because I saved some for me...I cheated on the side."
But none of that is very important. What makes this stand out from other "break-up" albums is the the incredible efforts Martyn makes to get just the right sounds for each track. Take, for instance, the incredibly piercing guitars on "Baby Please Come Home", whose notes are like terrible fingers trying to break into the soul; or the crashing cymbals and choppy rhythms of "Looking On", which sound like a mind unable to settle, unable to find any answers to any of the questions asked by the lyrics. If you listened to that at 3 a.m., you wouldn't sleep for a week afterwards. And what about those drums! To hear that sort of sensitivity, you'd never believe this was the same Phil Collins that ruined Genesis. Crazy what a divorce can do for a man!
The three killers come in the middle, beginning with "Sweet Little Mystery" - here the pace slows a little and Martyn makes room for simple sadness; but it's all so exquisitely executed, and so generously lucid, that the listener doesn't take the pain on board, only the sense of hope which comes from hearing a man meeting such pain with such monolithic creativity, and gratitude that he's made such efforts to express that pain so lucidly. It's really like nothing else.