Record Review: Blow Monkeys – Staring At The Sea

F.O.D. Records | UK | CD | 2009 | FODCD8

The Blow Monkeys: Staring At The Sea UK CD [2009]

  1. Steppin’ Down
  2. Hanging On To The Hurt
  3. The Killing Breeze
  4. Seventh Day
  5. Staring At The Sea
  6. What It Takes
  7. Prayin’ For Rain
  8. One Of Us Is Lying
  9. Face In The Rock
  10. All Blown Away
  11. A Lasting Joy
  12. When We Fall Out of Love

While I was right on the first album crowdsource campaign [made in advance of any crowdsource platforms!] for the welcome return of The Blow Monkeys back in 2008 with “The Devil’s Tavern,” I was shamefully remiss in buying anything else the band had released since then! Mea Culpa! Part of it is down to saving for travel and, quite frankly, the workmanlike pace of the band in laying down new tracks. They have been highly active in the last decade. Where their peers may have issued an album every 5 years or so, The Blow Monkeys have released four studio albums, a live album/DVD, and a Dr. Robert solo album. They are making things happen, so last year, when pencilling in items to buy for my occasional birthday spree, I thought it prudent to buy some Blow Monkeys I needed before it started to creep up in price.

The first album that they released following “The Devil’s Tavern” was the next release “Staring At The Sea.” It was a radically different sounding record but that’s nothing new. TBM were semi-legendary at developing their sound in new directions throughout their career. The biggest change on this outing was that to these ears it seemed more like a Dr. Robert solo album than a band outing. “Steppin’ Down” had a familiar Blow Monkeys swagger, but the very next track was Dr. Robert reclaiming a great solo song from 1999’s “Flatlands” album. “Hanging On To The Hurt” was given a more spirited vocal from The Doctor but otherwise, was not exactly a volte-face from the earlier cut of the song. Only Neville Henry’s sax solo on the fadeout marked this as Blow Monkeys material.

“The Killing Breeze” definitely sported a laidback, seaside vibe and the real star of this song, as in much of the album itself, was the superb string arrangements, courtesy of arranger/producer Bob Rose. After establishing a chilled out beachhead, the fourth song was the one excursion here into the fiery extremes of The Blow Monkeys’ sound. “Seventh Day” was a scorcher of a song with vibrant horns and the one turn where Dr. Robert exercised some of his electric guitar muscles and pulled out some licks that would have been at home on “Animal Magic,” which for me was a real “guitar album.”

Then, as soon as it was over, the mood shifted back dramatically into the introspection of the album’s title track. Henry’s tenor sax really gave this a sophisticated melodic feel akin to peers Black on a comparable track like “The Sweetest Smile.” Then the influences reached much farther back into Fred Neil territory! “What It Takes” had the vibe of the Fred Neil songbook, which doesn’t come as a shock, as Dr. Robert has dropped his name before in his solo career, where he duly covered a pair of Neil tunes on his cover album, “Other Folk.” I have to say that the results here were fully on par with a classic pop song such as “Everybody’s Talking.” Dr. Robert has only strengthened his songwriting muscles in the nearly 40 years he’s been plying his trade.

“Prayin’ For Rain” was a gentle folk tune with some rare backing vocals on this album. The Good Doctor let some Andalusian influences creep into the acoustic Latin number “One Of Us Is Lying.” The Spanish guitar here was nimble and vivid, even as star turns by The Blow Monkeys were thin on this ground this outing. The truth of the matter was that although this had more of a Dr. Robert solo vibe than the Blow Monkeys albums I am familiar with did, the dozen tune here fitted together extremely well, considering that the tempo rarely picked up and ran for this album. The caliber of the songwriting was kept high and the pacing made for a smooth moving 44 minute album that seemed a bit shorter than that.

Another asset that this album has was the production by Bob Rose. It really sounded like the album was recorded live in a studio room. There was a “room feel” with bleed between mics contributing to a whole sounding album that was not piecemeal or isolated too much. Of course, the album listed a ProTools tech, so there was editing going on, but I suspect that it was more a case of integrating the string sessions and b-vox with the band recordings. Take a listen to the title track and it sounds like the band straight to 2-track – bam! So the production on this one sounded very straightforward; almost a deliberate throwback. Then again, the band were not exactly making House music tracks at this point in their career.

Listening to this album was very easy because the songs and performances flow effortlessly and have breathing space and a presence that one can definitely hear. My only caveat regarding this album was that it seemed for all the world a Dr. Robert solo album given that the band were keeping to the margins here on the mostly low-key material, but that didn’t make it a bad album. Far from it. I need to now get the ones that have come after this to see where it all goes to. I have last year’s Dr. Robert solo album, “Out There” and this album seems more of a piece with it than most Blow Monkeys material.

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About postpunkmonk

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One Response to Record Review: Blow Monkeys – Staring At The Sea

  1. Echorich says:

    I get where you are coming from on the Dr. Robert solo feel of a number of thetracks, but I feel like there is a certain vibe throughout Staring At The Sea that speaks to the album being a real band effort. The good Dr’s solo albums have a more intimate feel to them and Staring At Sea has a bigger, fuller sound.
    The Killing Breeze was one of my top songs of 2011 and it is very, very high among tmy many favorite TBM songs from their canon. When the verses flow into the thick, fuzzy guitar lead chorus it sets off those pleasure sensors in my mind.
    Seventh Day takes me back the later years of TBM’s first era. It’s got that “Superfly” fly vibe and cinematic funk that just makes your body move. It’s a song that give more evidence that it was Robert Howard that influenced the direction Paul Weller took after closing down The Style Council.
    Basically Staring At The Sea is full of songs that in another time might have been huge. That they are songs that almost 30 years on the band could deliver, regardless of popularity or success, speaks volumes to their greatness.

    Like

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