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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.
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