[…continued from post before last]
It opened with China Crisis’s equivalent of an all-gunsblazing track. I will come right out and declare that I don’t think they have ever cut as fine a song as “Smile [What Kind of Love Is This].” It opened deceptively with the sound of a brass chamber ensemble from the 18th century before all of the other instruments rejoined the mix in a gentle, but slightly rollicking groove. As always, this band were so unassuming and diffident in their external appearance that it sometimes meant that their hard work and deep consideration managed to lie below the surface of their deceptively laid back songs.
“Smile and shake the hand of the good for nothing
Work the head of those best forgotten” – “Smile”
“Smile” opened with a rare archly wry lyric [above] while the arrangement managed to evoke past glories with near-Mariachi horns straight out of the B-side “Orange Mutt-Mutt Dance.” But the delicate balancing act of the arrangement here was the real feat. It was a busy arrangement, with synths, brass section, guitars, synth bass, and even bazouki! With a pennywhistle on top as the icing on the cake. This one track managed to distill the essence of China Crisis into a delicate soufflé of a song that was both robust and filled with delight. And it sounded as accomplished as the day was long. In lesser hands, it would have all collapsed, yet China Crisis made it sound like it was their stock-in-trade; because it was. If ever a single song could sum up the appeal of China Crisis, this was the one!
The dreamy “Down Here On Earth” was another Gary Daly-led slice of jazzpop sophistication that played like a long-lost top track off of “What Price Paradise,” or “Diary Of A Hollow Horse.” It’s joyous to hear this band [on this track with Brian McNeil on keys] reveling in their sound yet the effect transcends self-pastiche. In every way, the band sound laid-back [China Crisis could never be otherwise] yet the quiet professionalism of the group eschew any showboating even as they are clearly a more mature unit in every sense of the word. The song superficially recalls something from “Flaunt The imperfection,” yet that work seems rightly callow next to this. Daly’s lyrics sum up the band’s appeal with references to “joyful pain and sorrow” that hint at underlying melancholy while delivering joy with the fantastic melodies.
The title track took a new tact for the band; back to the late 70s with a sound heavy with Fender Rhodes electric piano and wah-wah effects. Mellow, yet downbeat with a jazz chaser. It sounded very much like something that CTI might have had their name on. This one was beguiling and the 12 musicians on it hardly came close to upsetting the apple cart. This was simply accomplished, songwriting given the full benefit of a seemingly unlimited number of sympathetic musicians. That was clearly one of the most delightful things about this album thus far. It was far from being Gary and Eddie with a harmonica rack and acoustic guitar. In fact, this was some of the most complex and ornate music they’d ever crafted thus far. Yet there was no threat of it bloating on the seashore like a beached whale. This was too musically captivating. In a world where less is more, the bands that can successfully pull off this conceit are few.
Conversely, their other strength was that they achieved this with music that superficially sounded easy. I think this came down to the clear vision for the songwriting that kept things simple and direct, thematically, while the music was building in complexity underneath it all. The emotional tenor of this album was straightforward and even simple, while the music was full of careful filigree and tightly balanced arrangements that supported the direct and easy emotional tone of the album with melodic and rhythmic invention that sounded easier than it really was. Not every band can achieve this.
Next: …The Finest Elegy