Record Review: China Crisis – Autumn In The Neighbourhood [part 4]

Proud Papas

[continued from this post]

My best laid plans went awry. I did not find enough time to write a complete Bauhaus review over the weekend, but I was adamant that that post had to run on that day, for obvious reasons. So yesterday, I was planning on finishing the Bauhaus review, but could not find the CD to listen to on the commute to work – meaning that the last half of that review will have to wait until I find the CD! Then I had to cut my lunch short, so no blogging. Meanwhile, let’s experience the utmost in aesthetic whiplash and move from the abrasive, nerve shredding art rock of Bauhaus to the mellifluous tunes of China Crisis at their best. A bigger stylistic gulf I could scarcely imagine.


“Fool” was the only solo Gary Lundon written song on this album, and it came across like a spectacular deep cut from “Flaunt The Imperfection.” After a false intro, the horn section really carried the melody here, with a engaging arrangement with some very stimulating drums from Steve Barney giving this one a lot of spring in its step. I also enjoyed how the backing vocalists carried the title lyric in the chorus without Eddie singing along.

I’ll admit that “Imperfection” is not my favorite China Crisis album, [ducks] but this song to my ears almost sounds like stepping right into the head space that accompanied that album, but then stepping over to the correct side of the “MOR line” that was drawn through that album. There were two to three songs on “Imperfection” that didn’t do that, and they compromised my enjoyment of that album. Having said that, and considering that this song sounds better than a third of “Imperfection,” I’d still peg this cut as the weak one on this album, simply due to Lundon’s lyric, which struck me as a tad adolescent. Next to the haikus of maturity that Daly wrote elsewhere on this one, I have to say that this one came off poor in comparison and also doubled as the weak sister to “No More Blue Horizons [Fool, Fool, Fool],” which examined similar themes first, and better, to my ears.

Speaking of haikus of maturity, “Sweet Delight” was a real tumble down the rabbit hole of wisdom, love, and affection as seen through Daly’s eyes. How can you not love a lyric as profound and simple as this:

“Beautiful sensual radiant smile
That’s all I need, all I need to get by
Wake in the morning with you by my side
And that’s all I need, all I need to get by” – “My Sweet Delight”

Musically, the lyrics were matched by a simple, tender arrangement with Kevin Wilkinson on drums and mandolin and the sensitive piano of Howie Jones carrying the melody while the accordion of Helen Maher added a faint, yet delightful texture to the proceedings.

One would be forgiven for assuming that “Tell Tale Signs” was an instrumental, since 75% of its running time was bereft of lyrics, but you would not care. The languid piano combined with Vidar Norheim’s vibes and xylophone make for an enchanting vibe. Once Stuart Nisbet’s pedal steel joins in with the fun, it’s all over. One simply capitulates to the sheer gorgeousness of it all. When Gary Daly appeared at 2:48 singing, it almost broke the spell that had been carefully woven for nearly three minutes, but thankfully, his lyrics on this number were minimal to the point where they almost were haiku. Simply stunning, and once I’ve heard this one, it stays in the forefront of my mind with grip that belies its intoxicating languor.

The album ended with the most minimal song here. “Wonderful New World” was just Daly on vocals and acoustic guitar with Nisbet’s pedal steel. Metaphorically, it walks the album straight into the sunset following the previous song, making for great pacing and sequencing. Daly’s singing here sound atypical from his vocals elsewhere, but that may just be down to the sparseness of the arrangement. It bears mentioning that he’s never sounded better to my ears, having left the callow youth of “Different Shapes” and “Fire + Steel” as well as the Donald Fagenisim of their next three albums far behind.

Finally, there was one other track associated with “Autumn In The Neighbourhood,” “Everyone You Know” was included as pre-release download on Pledge Music and I have it since I pledged for a copy as a gift. I finally listened to the DL I’ve had for almost four years today. While it’s a fine number, I can see why it was decided to leave it off of the album. It sounded like an unfinished demo to me. Not only was the arrangement all synths and drum machines, but the lyric was a tad less than acute for Mr. Daly these days. The vocal also sounded neither like Daly nor Lundon. I’m guessing it was Daly by the lyric thrust. At the very least, it was a good “B-side” in this hellish era of no singles, and appreciated.


But not as appreciated as this album was overall. For the longest time, I have held a brightly burning candle for the arrangements of “Working With Fire + Steel” as the acme of my love for China Crisis. While I can listen to that album with its sparkling arrangements and overly gratuitous oboe leanings with a comforted ear, at the end of the day, I’d have to say that right now, in 2017, I’m enjoying “Autumn In The Neighbourhood” more than any other China Crisis album. It touched on almost all aspects of their sound, and still managed to eke out some new tributaries to explore, while doing so with some of their best ever songwriting. This was another rare case of an old favorite coming back with the goods, better than ever.

Which kind of torques me out of shape, given that buying a copy of this CD was so very difficult. If I could grab this band collectively by the lapels, I’d ask them why for the luvva Pete have they made what is obviously a strong and compelling album of gorgeously mature songs and performances…and yet made it so difficult to purchase? It makes no sense at all to me. Scour the web find your copy. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

– 30 –

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10 Responses to Record Review: China Crisis – Autumn In The Neighbourhood [part 4]

  1. Tim says:

    I never listened to them back in the day and your recent posts have made me curious, they barely even have a footprint on youtube! If I can’t hear them then I can’t figure out if I want to, you know, give them some money.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – This “modesty” is part of their appeal while it also limits their reach commercially. Besides, it’s nt as though anyone could buy this album if they wanted without a lot of detective work!

      Like

  2. Echorich says:

    Ok, Monk, pistols at dawn…I’ll bring the Denix pistols, you bring the Earl Grey for afters… FOOL IS JUST A BRIGHT, SHINY POP SONG OF THE HIGHEST CALIBER! I drove home from work Monday, with the top down in the early evening’s waning sunlight to Fool – literally blasting from the over the top 9 (?) Dolby Surround Sound speakers in my Volvo with just the biggest, FOOLish grin. I put it on repeat and went the most circuitous route home that I could think of. It doesn’t outstay its welcome and it doesn’t make you yearn for another verse and chorus. Fool is perfect.
    As for the very obvious Flaunt The Imperfection bones (yes the OTHER reason for my gentlemanly challenge), Fool has all the magic of that album and yet sounds fresh, not like a track that was mothballed or better yet, tucked away in a cedar closet.
    Those delicate jazzy leanings come to the fore on My Sweet Delight. The loving yearnings in the poetic lines of Daly’s lyrics are emotionally touching. Kevin Wilkinson’s beautiful brushwork adds another emotional element to the song that really does give me pause when I listen to My Sweet Delight.
    Tell Tale Signs has a way of taking me back to Different Shapes, not necessarily sonically as much as in feel. The vocals are almost like a final coda, another musical element used to take the song to its finish. It is beautiful.
    I agree that this album is programmed with a real appreciation for the music it contains and the listener is treated to an amazing listening experience because of that attention given to its curation. Wonderful New World is a sweet, yet somewhat cautionary song. The pedal steel adds just the right amount of mournfulness to the song and again makes me think of Kevin Wilkinson. In fact this entire album feels like his presence/lack of presence is felt throughout the 11 songs of Autumn In The Neighborhood by all involved, let alone us as listeners.
    I have a certain affection for pre release song Everyone You Know as it serves the purpose of proving to fans and maybe even Daly and Lundon that this could be done. It feels like a song that bridges the space between Working With Fire And Steel and Flaunt The Imperfection with some of the Langer/Winstanley influence found on What Price Paradise. Yes, it sounds lighter weight than the album’s songs, but it is still very much a part of those songs. When it was release through Pledge, it did the job for me – giving me confidence Autumn In The Neighborhood would be special. I will agree with you in your observation that this 2017 release is my current favorite China Crisis album. Where Flaunt The Imperfection has always occupied that space for me, Autumn In The Neighborhood is a album of music that sounds like it was made for me to connect with right now, at this time, in my life. It is an album of very personal music that isn’t too personal to not invite me in.

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  3. Rob C says:

    Hmm…both Fool and Everyone You Know are my favourite current China Crisis songs…what does this say about me? Don’t know but I truly love both these songs.

    I’ve always loved Steely Dan so Flaunt never gets old for me – it’s usually a toss up between this or Difficult Shapes as my fave. And speaking of Difficult Shapes, I bought this album on cassette back in the day without ever knowing a single song. I just loved the mysterious look of the artwork. Albums has the power to do that back then – subliminally compel you to buy an album, without knowing what you’re going to here, because the artwork was strong. After loving what I heard, I soon added Working & Flaunt. A few years later Arizona Sky would be a surprise hit on modern rock stations and I was happy that a band I treasured finally got their due on radio.

    Autumn is a brilliant record – reading this 4-part review has been a pleasure. Here’s hoping the band eventually gets this out on a wider release – it certainly deserves to be heard wide and far.

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  4. drskridlow says:

    I am slightly late to the party here, but a couple things: First, I love your blog. You and I have very similar tastes and loves of music (China Crisis, Ultravox, Magazine, Teardrop Explodes). The blog is always a good read, even if an artist you are spotlighting isn’t one I closely follow.

    Second, like you, I am absolutely mad for China Crisis, who can do no wrong in my book, regardless of the album. One of life’s pleasures is that they are still blessing us with their music, which as your review concludes, is every bit as good today as it was in the 80s and early 90s. If you close your eyes and forget that it is 2019, Autumn in the Neighbourhood would sound right at home between Flaunt the Imperfection and What Price Paradise.

    I had the amazing fortune of seeing China Crisis a couple nights ago at Yoshi’s in Oakland (California). It was their first of only three US gigs so I feel lucky that they chose what is practically my backyard to visit. This was my third time seeing the band, the first being in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Palace in 1984 and the second at The Ritz in NYC in 1987. Both shows were amazing, as one would expect, but it was the latter which led a wonderful moment with Gary and Eddie at Yoshi’s.

    Just after the band wrapped up their last encore at The Ritz and were walking off stage, I quickly weaved through the crowd heading toward the venue exits and made my way up to the front of the stage where I quickly snagged the band’s set list which was taped to the floor beneath Gary’s mic stand. Prized set list in hand, along with a China Crisis t-shirt from the merch stand, I headed back to my apartment in Brooklyn with the buzz of the amazing show swirling around in my head.

    Fast forward to last Thursday’s Yoshi’s gig 32 years later (wow, where did the time go?). The band sounds as good now as they did when I saw them in the 80s. The harmonies are crisp, the playing is tight and the energy is still there. In other words, they still have it. In spades.

    Afterward, I got in line at the post-show meet and greet where Gary, Eddie and their two bandmates were kindly signing vinyl and CD album covers, including Autumn in the Neighbourhood (which I snagged there for $20!), and other memorabilia. When I was my turn to step up and meet Gary and Eddie, I grabbed the set list out of my backpack and showed it to them as I excitedly explained how I had obtained it at The Ritz gig. Gary smiled and got this amazed look in his eyes and tapped Eddie, who was talking with another fan, on the shoulder and said, “Look at this!” Then he said to me, “That was one of our favorite shows on the tour! I can’t believe you have that!” Then he and Eddie autographed the set list, which is now an even more treasured possession from one of my favorite bands. They could not have been nicer.

    Given your love of China Crisis, I thought you might appreciate hearing about that.

    Keep up the great work! I will continue to be an avid reader.

    — Tom

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      drskridlow – Welcome to the comments! Such envy here from my corner as CC have never played anywhere near where I happened to live at the time. In the 80s Central Florida was still a no-man’s land for most of my favorites. And finding out when and where CC are playing now is always like doing detective work somehow for me. My friend Mr. Ware saw them in Orlando a year or two back on a package tour, but I was long gone by that time. So you were able to buy a CD of “Autumn In The Neighbourhood” on their merch table?! Was it a pressed CD or a CD-R? If they have finally managed to manufacture some more, I wish they would share that fact with us! As far as the contemporary sound of CC, I am still of the opinion that they are better than ever, with “Neighbourhood” a plateau, though I’m still unconvinced by “Warped By Success.” Must revisit…

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    • Richard says:

      Oh fer cryin out loud. I read this just two weeks after the Yoshi’s gig and had I known could have had my brother in Oakland go and grab Autumn and anything else that was for sale, because there’s zero chance they’ll ever play in Germany where I live.
      I remember seeing them live in Providence RI around 1985, give or take a year, and a year or so before that watching what seemed like thousands of hours of MTV over several months sitting right in front of the TV so I could hit record on the VCR as soon as the Fire and Steel video came on, which believe it or not occasionally happened amongst the non-stop John Cougar Mellencamp and Def Leppard.

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        Richard – Welcome to the comments! Yep, the “Fire + Steel” video was my wake up call. I’d read about CC but it became real once I finally heard them on the clip. Too bad about missing the CD. It makes me crazy that it’s treated like a state secret but at least now they sell it at gigs!

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        • Richard says:

          Ahh the days when you could learn about records from the always-reliable gatekeepers in the music press, mainly NME and MM but also the Face and Trouser Press, who would rave about a couple of must-hears every week or two. You could buy them without having heard them and they’d be every bit as great as described, which I did for CC (first album, before MTV) and others such as Anna Domino and Bill Nelson along with more obscure people like Thomas Leer and Care (Our Daughter’s Wedding anyone? Drinking Electricty? Okay maybe not all classics for the ages. Animal Nightlife did not age well.) Nowadays anyone with a pulse can write reviews, not to mention put out records, which I guess is democratic but who can sort through 100 or 1,000 rave reviews per week?

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  5. drskridlow says:

    Hi, thanks for the response! Yes, I purchased the Autumn in the Neighbourhood CD at the show for $20. I really wish it was available on vinyl, but considering how rare a commodity the CD is I am thankful they at least had some copies of it there.

    I completely agree with you though. China Crisis still has a following so I don’t understand why the album is not available anywhere for purchase online, except through Discogs and the like. It was a pressed CD with nice artwork (presumably by Gary, if I am not mistaken) on the non-playing side. The CD also comes with a lyric sheet.

    As for Warped By Success, definitely give it another shot. If anything, I think it suffers from perception because every album that came before it built upon the last and by the time it released they had plateaued at a very high level. But in my opinion the songs hold up creatively and are comparable to the rest of the catalog.

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