Top critical review
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Thea has her 'Ron Sexsmith' moment!! His passed quickly - let's hope her's does too!!!
on 2 June 2013
Well, one reviewer reckons that if you've not heard Thea before, then this is a good place to start. I'd definitely disagree with that sentiment - just like 'Long Player, Late Bloomer' is NOT a good place to start with Ron Sexsmith.
So what's the connection? Well, I guess that Ron (as borne out by the documentary about the album) decided that while all the 'top music icons' in sundry were eulogising over his music (Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Lesley Fiest, Paul Brady - the list goes on and on) the great unwashed general public were too busy buying garbage by Beyonce, Coldplay, U2, Robbie Williams, Adele and all the other hopeless 'O2 Arena fillers' you can think of. Album reviews were always 5-star, sales were usually 1-star!! So off he went to Bob Rock (rock producer of limited good-taste) who had a track record of commercial success with some top rockers. Result = 'Long Player, Late Bloomer' - Ron's most 'accessible' album for the average punter (accessible is an expression meaning able to be enjoyed by morons) but also his worst album by a country mile. Jaunty 'sing-along' arrangements, top-drawer but soul-less session musicians 'going through the motions' and digital wizardry keeping his slightly off-kilter voice (one of his most appealing assets) 'on pitch'. BUT - it was his most successful in terms of sales - he made some money!!! However, he has now (thankfully) returned to top form (dumping Bob Rock and returning to Mitchell Froom as producer) with his recent Forever Endeavour album that has restored the faith of his admirers and turned in good sales as well.
Well, Thea has had the same idea. Lots of great reviews for her previous albums (Strange Communion, Murphy's Heart and Liejacker are all good starting points for new recruits) but sales were not going to buy her a country estate in Cheshire (where she lives). However, her most recent Sandy Denny tribute CD (also excellent) got a lot of publicity (TV interviews and performances etc) and her 'London' song was the theme for BBC Olympic coverage. So 'mainstream' attention was on her so why not take advantage 'a la Ron'? Let's do an 'accessible' album of 'drive time' tunes and see what happens!
So off she goes and records 'Regardless'. Just like Ron's album, the song quality is pretty well all there still (sharp lyrics as usual) but they are lost, or rather totally swamped to the point of being submerged in a deluge of treacly over-production - truly irritating, over-wrought string arrangements that subscribe to the 'more is more' school of thought. Subtle it is not. I guess the 'Radio 2 album of the week' selection says a lot about it's appeal - easy listening for people who want to hum-along and not bother with 'details' like lyrics.
Perhaps Thea was told that a lot of her current fans would not like this musical direction but she decided she'd carry on 'regardless', hence the title! There may be some serious money in it!! - and who can blame her I suppose?
I'm a long time Thea admirer and have seen her on a number of occasions at a small and intimate venue (The Brook in Southampton - with her son Egan on violin - he must have been all of three!) and my affection for her music has made me give this three stars - I can't bring myself to go down to two stars but if I was being brutally objective I guess that's the direction I'd be going.
Never mind, I have great faith in the supremely talented Nigel Stonier (a.k.a. 'Mr' Thea Gilmore) pulling her back from the brink (of commercial success??) - althought I must say that as a bass player he'd make a good plumber!!! - Thea - employ a proper bass player - guitarists don't make it a bassists!!). However, I guess it's easy to be 'precious' about such decisions - if there's a pot of money to be had, who knows if I'd be any different? However, not everyone 'sells out' - I saw Terry Reid recently and he's been 100% true to himself - he turned down the Led Zeppelin vocalist job and did the same with Deep Purple - and so he made no money!! But he's still great - he's STILL the original, undiluted, vintage Terry Reid. On the other hand, look at Rod Stewart who took the opposite path - he went from totally superb (listen to 'Gasoline Alley') to being a perma-tanned, show-biz, middle of the road joke (albeit a rich one!). I wonder which way Thea will go?
I'll just keep my fingers crosssed for the next album!