Black… Is The New Black

Nero Schwarz | UK | DL | 2011

Black: Any Color You Like – Download [2011]

  1. Wonderful Life [2002]
  2. Sweetest Smile [2011]
  3. Water On Snow [2010 Live]
  4. Tomorrow Is Another Night [2011 Remix]
  5. Fly Up To The Moon [2000 Live]
  6. Let Me Watch You Make Love [2000 Live]
  7. Too Many Times [2000 Live]
  8. Swingtime
  9. Ave Lolita
  10. The Way She Was Before
  11. Better Letting Go
  12. Two Churches
  13. Stormy Waters
  14. Her Coat And No Knickers
  15. Sleeper
  16. Where The River Bends

I’d read about Black at the time of their 1984 WEA singles, but it remained until A+M signed the band and released their debut album, “Wonderful Life,” in America, that I finally heard the songs of Colin Vearncombe, and I was immediately sold! Here was a singer/songwriter who arrived in the marketplace with the goods at exactly the right time for me. The mid-eighties were a time that the Post-Punk wave that I’d rode for nearly a decade had run out of steam and I was ready for a performer who was a singer’s singer and a writer’s writer. Black managed to fill a Scott Walker-like niche for me quite capably. Vearncombe crafted ornately orchestrated material that drew more inspiration from jazz instrumentation than rock, but made high quality, adult, inroads into the pop charts; ennobling them in the process.

I have followed Black’s career through the A+M years, buying every single, to his own run of self-released albums on his Nero Schwarz label; beginning in 1993 with the amazing “Are We Having Fun Yet.” In the last 18 years he’s racked up an impressive arc of albums, either under the Black moniker or his given name of Colin Vearncombe, mostly sold through his website. These have seen Vearncombe initially continuing [some would say perfecting] the elaborately embellished style he began his run with at WEA and A+M, then gradually paring away the grandiloquence over a period of years in favor of a stripped down intimacy that verged on the Dylan-esque.

His 1999 album, “The Accused,” dispensed with the Black branding he’d used for almost 20 years as he began performing and releasing under his given name. Apparently, he’d discovered that plugging “Black” into a search engine yielded results about as effectively as the band “Japan” would have. Various live albums peppered his discography; sometimes live in the studio, or alternatively, recorded in concert. The last few years have seen a gradual move from the spartan acoustic trappings of  2002’s “Smoke Up Close” to a middle ground that began to return to the more elaborate arrangements he initially favored. In 2005, Vearncombe returned to using his Black branding while performing with sidemen for the first time in a few years. While many knew and loved “Sweetest Smile” or “Wonderful Life,” fewer associated those songs with his name, so this was a smart move.

A+M have licensed a fair number of compilations over the years that drew upon his three albums for that label. Vearncombe had decided that the time was nigh to provide a comparable spotlight on his substantial body of work he’d amassed under the auspices of his own label. To that end, he asked fans on his mailing list as well as audiences, to help in compiling a new compilation that would showcase his many strengths in an easily digestible package, and lo, “Any Colour You Like” was born. After much discussion, the 16 track album you see atop this page was the result.

The assembled tracks run from 1993 through to this year. Salting the pot for long-time fans, there are a number of new recordings added to the mix that see Vearncombe returning to his two biggest hits in the studio decades later and putting a current spin on “Wonderful Life” and “Sweetest Smile.” He cannily has not strayed far from the original arrangements of the hit recordings, but the intervening years have served Vearncombe well as he’s immeasurably a more seasoned performer who invests these recordings with greater depth of feeling and nuance than did the more callow gent half a lifetime ago. Net result? A new studio master featuring a superior performance, owned by the artiste, and a fully satisfied fan base.

Another treasure only on this set is the 2010 live recording of the title track of 2000’s “Water On Snow.” Oh, there’s nothing wrong with the frankly magnificent original version, but the take here, from a series of intimate “live in the studio with audience” concert sessions that Vearncombe held last year has born astonishing fruit with an utterly spellbinding performance of this song. You’d be forgiven for thinking incorrectly that this was a studio recording since there’s no audience noise on the recording as given here because the stunned audience simply couldn’t break the spell it cast afterward for a moment or two!

The last track unique to this collection is a 2011 remix with a gentle dusting of [gasp] drum + bass of “Tomorrow Is Another Night” from 2009’s “Water On Stone” album. The closest Black came to the dance floor is an extended 12″ of “I’m Not Afraid” many, many years ago, so this came a something of a surprise. Still, the techno touches are as light as a feather, so it still sounds like Black; just a little different.

The remainder of the material is drawn from the last 18 years of Colin Vearncombe albums. The pair of tunes from “Are We Having Fun Yet” are certainly the two I would have picked if I had responded to the initial list posting. “Swingtime” is a sumptuous ballad full of graceful and measured poise that was my favorite Black song for at least the ten minutes before the astonishing “Ave Lolita” hit the speakers! This song is Black at his ornate, if not operatic, peak! The production by Mike Hedges sounds like it cost a fortune to realize, and believe me, every penny is booming out of the speakers. Vearncombe more than rises to the occasion with a robust performance that takes no prisoners.

This album is a fantastic collection of aural flypaper that was made with the intent of introducing new ears to the considerable talent of Black. Even though I own all of his albums save for three live sets that were issued at a time of limited budget, this is a glorious balm for the ears that manages to make a tantalizing summary of the last 18 years of Blackness. Better still, here is a code below by which you can buy the download, which comes in multiple codecs/bitrates from MP3, to AAC, to FLAC [your choice – same price!] and with a full PDF booklet of liner notes, for the price of a single!


You can purchase this album at this page, where you may sample the wares before buying, but you would be amiss to pass up this limited offer since rarely is this brand of luxury so affordable.


About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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4 Responses to Black… Is The New Black

  1. Echorich says:

    Thanks for the heads up Monk! Vearncombe tops the list of those I consider Singer/Songwriters! I too have followed his work with great enthusiasm. Most acts loose me when the acoustic overtakes the electric, but Colin presents music that is masterful and has a depth that benefits from acoustic treatment.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – Well, I’ll admit that “Smoke Up Close” got by on his considerable songwriting, but overall, 30 songs of acoustic guitar and harmonica rack tend to keep me from listening too frequently. I’m glad he’s moved back to having other musicians playing with him. Everything doesn’t have to sound like “Ave Lolita”, or even “Hey Presto,” but the detail and filigree enhance the songs for me.


  2. Tim says:

    Hmmm…some duo out of the UK called Smith & Burrows are covering ”Wonderful Life.”
    Apparently they have a holiday album by the name of ‘Funny Looking Angels’ that is picking up press there, not sure if this on the lp or not but you can hear their take on WL over on YouTube


  3. postpunkmonk says:

    Tim – Oooh. I lasted about two lines into that one. The spare backing track was okay but the tremulous singing lost me. It sounded too… too… Irish for me.


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