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Popular Music - # 43 - April, 2002


Graham Vine

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Ratings:
Extraordinary
Good
Acceptable
Mediocre
Poor

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Lieutenant Pigeon - OPUS 400 - SMA - SMA 1602

Performance:
Sonics:


I don't normally review any CDs with fewer than about 6 tracks for an EP or advance sampler, and many have 20 or more tracks. Opus 400 has one track. So it's a single. But this has to be one of the most extraordinary singles ever because in its 35 minutes (count them!) running time there are musical styles from Big-band swing to avant-garde rhythms and odd scales. The whole surreal mixture works and, when you get to know the work a little, you really look forward to the next segment of the piece.

Lieutenant Pigeon formed around the nucleus of Rob Woodward and Nigel Fletcher in the early 1970s and ran for years in parallel with the duo's other project, Stavely Makepeace. Fronted by Rob's Mum Hilda and bassist Steve Johnson, they had 1972's biggest hit and Ivor Novello Award winner "Mouldy Old Dough". A string of hits followed, all with a novelty twist, but by the end of the '70s it was time to pack-in the band; they all went their separate ways. Only when a recent '70s revival brought them together did a latent idea of theirs come to fruition. This is it: the longest pop single ever released!

And so it came to pass that Nigel Fletcher asked this reviewer if I would like to receive a copy to comment on. Now it happens that Nigel is an old school friend of mine, so it was daring of him to risk a friendship by inviting brick-bats as well as praise. He did challenge me to guess what it is all about, given a one-word clue in the sleeve-notes. I'm pleased to say I got it right first time, but I shan't give the game away in case you, the reader, want to try the challenge. The only brick-bat I'll aim is to comment on a slightly mis-timed looping section - it hardly notices. To finish this paragraph the way it started, the monk's chorus at about 14 minutes in links together nicely a Sandy Nelson-style drum solo with some glam-rockers imploring you to 'do your own thing'. How else would you make such a link?!

There are many highlights in this single for me. I love the 'perfect harmony' segment in barbershop style; the hunting gallop; the Major-General in various places barking out his motivating speech; some remarkable rhymes/jokes/puns and mimickery; the revisited themes coming together towards the end. If you're as fascinated as you should be, the disk is handled by Makepeace Distribution. If all else fails, the band's website: http://www.lieutenantpigeon.co.uk should be able to help.

Dreamlight - Songs at Night - Shnefish SHR 1001

Performance:
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An unexpected benefit from helping to run an international radio station happened a little while ago. Germany's Dreamlight alerted me to the availability of their CD "Songs At Night" and so my interest was aroused. Reading between the lines of the sleeve notes I deduce that Dreamlight is principally talented vocalist and keyboard-player, Lutz Muller-Rank, together with various guest musicians. I'll mention as many of these as possible - their support is clearly much appreciated by Lutz.

The songs are all penned by Lutz. Without being overtly hook-laden, the musical structure makes good use of the vocalist's range and every song has a melody which is the basis for the chord arrangements. All too often it's the other way round in some of the CDs I listen to. The lyrics are true balads, whatever the tempo of individual songs. Even the titles give a clue as to what we should expect: "Your Natural Beauty", "Broken Bridges", "The Show Is Over" . . . .

Lutz has a voice somewhere between Mike Berry and Neil Hannon of The Devine Comedy. There is a certain richness and yet the diction is ever-so-nearly overdone - any more clarity and the end result would sound affected. Fortunately this danger is avoided. Manfred Tappert plays a major part in the songs he helps with. His acoustic guitar work is outstanding and he is no mean vocalist in his own right. I was rather disappointed with the drum-work of Michael Koch - that is, if he plays on all tracks. The technique and interesting fills are all there on "Mother Nature", for instance, but other tracks sounded like a drum machine. I think more description of who played what, where, is needed. Since no real strings are mentioned (and using my ears) I presume that Lutz's keyboard fills-in in that department. I've heard better, but the result here is passable.

A nice and easy listen, this CD. Not too challenging but rewarding if you follow the words and get to know the tunes a bit. It's only available from the Dreamlight website: http://www.songs-at-night.de, though I see no reason why they would not deserve to be picked-up by a major label, hopefully giving them even more exposure than through these reviews.

For reference, complete track listing:

1. Your Natural Beauty
2. Lips Like A Brandy
3. Turn The Wheel
4. Speachless Fools
5. Right Time To
6. Give Me The Power
7. Wheels At Sunset
8. Wounds That Never Heal
9. Dreamlight Theme
10. Broken Bridges
11. The Show Is Over
12. I Wanna Be
13. Mother Nature

Fred Stein The Experiment - Between Lost and Found - Shore Shot BLF-2001

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Sonics:


Fred Stein's experimental journey in sound has taken him in some diverse directions. Some yield successful results, others less so. The album is, in general, fairly sparse in its production technique - too sparse for the most part and when additional instrumentation cuts in it helps to fill out the sound-stage for the better. The fuzz guitar is used like this in a few of the songs and its appearance is most welcome. The Hammond organ in "The World Is Changing" has similar effect and I particularly liked the explosion at the end of that song. It's not so much violent as triumphant.

The songs have benefited from the care that Fred has taken in their composition, though a couple of notable exceptions remind me of '50s and '60s pop songs that never really made it, and quite rightly so! "Love Is Everything" and "Hopeful Dreamer" sound amateurish and corny, the latter not even saved by its good guitar solo. Still, most of the other songs have a meaningful lyric, not just made up out of throw-away lines.

The song styles range from folk-blues through pop and classic-sounding rock to the odd but enjoyable "Luna Tuna". "She's The Shopper" is a highlight with its more or less spoken vocal, rather Pet Shop Boys style, aptly enough. "Working Hard" is also very good, sounding a bit like Lou Reed. And Fred seems to draw inspiration from U2 for the slow and soulful "Loving You Is The Easiest Thing To Do".

Overall I have to judge the album as sounding amateurish. In too many places the female vocalist is running out of range, like the low sections of "Love Is Everything". The muddy sound of tracks 9 and 10 and the audio distortion most noticeable in "Little One" show that more care needs to be taken to get the bulk of the album up to a high standard throughout. To this end, a reduction in track-count from 17 to 12 or 13 would take the pressure off the production side, thin out the poorer songs, and spend some more time honing the remainder into a higher standard of output. What I have heard on "Between Lost And Found" shows that these musicians can do it if they concentrate on the job.

For reference, complete track listing:

1. You're Going To Get None
2. He Will Never Change
3. A New Me
4. The World Is Changing
5. Summit
6. Run
7. She's The Shopper
8. Working Hard
9. Working All The Time
10. Love Is The Answer
11. Accept Me Or Reject Me
12. Loving You Is The Easiest Thing To Do
13. Salesman
14. Love Is Everything
15. Little One
16. Hopeful Dreamer
17. Luna Tuna



 - Graham Vine -

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Copyright 2002 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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