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Record Review Reprint
Hammill reckons this as his twenty-sixth album and I suppose, counting live albums and sundries, it is. A quite startling number including much excellent music. After the rather, I thought, weak Roaring Fourties album, I was a little wary but Hammill has nowhere near reached the depths at which I stop buying an artists output as a matter of course. I am delighted to report a very positive response to this album even on first listen; something I have been hard pressed to do in regard of the last two. The "Be Calm" and "A Loud" series are still waiting in the wings to be instantiated anew, this being "placed in the Middle Ground". There are none of the unpleasant bland rock efforts found on The Noise and no insipid ballads as on Your Tall Ship from Roaring Fourties. These songs are all in the unique Hammill idiom; understated, emotive, originally arranged. Hammills sings better than for quite some time. Much of the wonderful strong vibrato and a lot of the vocal layering of high ranges which is a particular trademark and appealing aspect. The album opens with Hammill, singing with many overlaid selves acappella, a compact and very effective and tender A Better Time. This track gloriously closes the album too but this time with instrumentation. Amnesiac follows; acoustic guitar, modern and successful, particularly the chorus. Earthbound has much layered vocals and loops towards the end; at this point I am convinced that Hammill has not run dry as some other later work might have indicated. Narcissus (Bar and Grill) is inventive with fine syncopated drums and guitar opening. The middle section reminds me a lot of parts of The Ritual Mask, mainly due to the instrumentation.
One thing that makes things so approachable for those familiar with his output is the textural and loose guitar that has returned. There are elements of Out of Water here haunted by the ghost of the K Group era. I think Hammill has consolidated the legacy of the marvellous Fireships at last. Material Possession has a Celtic influence that breaks through explicitly in places. His miraculous voice is deep, clear and beautiful on this track. Come Clean is somewhat nondescript but quite bearable despite the unnerving country music feel it displays in places. This album represents what Hammill regards as what would "In my dream world ... almost pass for pop songs". If these could ever pass for pop music, a desirable world indeed.
© 1996 Phil Kime
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