Record Review: Bill Nelson – The Love That Whirls [Diary of A Thinking Heart] [part 1]

Cocteau Records | UK | CD | 1986 | JC CD 16

Bill Nelson: The Love That Whirls [Diary Of A Thinking Heart] UK CD [1986]

  1. Empire Of The Senses
  2. Hope For The Heartbeat (Remix)
  3. Waiting For Voices
  4. A Private View
  5. Eros Arriving
  6. The Bride Of Christ In Autumn
  7. Flesh
  8. He And Sleep Were Brothers
  9. When Your Dream Of Perfect Beauty Comes True
  10. Flaming Desire
  11. Portrait Of Jan With Flowers
  12. The Crystal Escalator In The Palace Of God Department Store
  13. Echo In Her Eyes
  14. The October Man

favorite albums of all time: Bill Nelson’s second major label solo album from 1982, “The Love That Whirls [Diary Of A Thinking Heart].” It was some time in 1982 that I dove into the Bill Nelson pool with “Permanent Flame” and liked what I’d heard enough to begin collecting Nelson in earnest. The US PVC 2xLP bundled with “La Belle Et La Bête” soundtrack was int he bins then and was my first copy of the album. In 1986, I upgraded to the Bill Nelson produced CD on his own Cocteau records label.

This was a solo album in the almost literal sense of the word with Nelson playing all instruments with the exception of the vibraslap on “Empire Of The Senses” [his then-wife, Jan Nelson], and Bogdan [Fingerprintz] Wiiczling with drums on “The October Man.” The album began with what is possibly my favorite Nelson song of them all. The stuttering, drum machine intro was slathered with reverb as the cascading synths of the song and the first of many xlylophone solos swirled in eddies and currents of sound rushing forward as the upbeat, philosophical lyrics aligned to produce euphoria. The title was surely cribbed from Oshima’s “In The Realm Of the Senses,” with its French title being exactly “Empire Of The Senses.” I’m betting that Nelson more easily saw this still scandalous film in accessible France. The soaring melody that Nelson sings wordlessly is beautiful beyond words.

Beyond Oshima, the further influence of Japanese culture strongly comes home to roost on this album as its sound was most probably influenced by the music of YMO and its constituent members; then in the process of reaching the west. “Hope For The Heartbeat” appeared here in a remix that replaced the original LP mix of 1982. [memo to self – re-buy this LP the next time I see it] It’s another delight of clockwork rhythm machines and heavily effected lead guitar from Nelson, who was going through a phase of studiously rejecting his “own best clichés” as a former guitar hero turned art-rocker. The percussive white noise pads create a palpable contrast of textures next to Nelson’s e-bow guitar.

In 1982, Nelson had only just started his Cocteau Records label, and this was one of his big budget major label albums, so the complexion of this album was to mix song-focused material like “Empire Of the Senses” with ambient forms that were interspersed like haikus among the beefier pop songs on offer here. Almost half of the original LP songs here were of this concise [1-2 minute] nature. “Waiting For Voices” was such a brief shimmering sketch of swelling synths. It made a perfect introduction to the exquisite languor of “A Private View.”

The lead on the latter was another gorgeous Nelson e-bow guitar line snaking through this one like a Japanese dragon as the methodical and immaculate rhythms percolated throughout the song. Nelson’s captivating vocals were perfectly enunciated for maximum impact as he divulged the lyrics throughout. This was definitely a swoon-worthy moment.

The single “Eros Arriving” was another dive into Japanese melodic structure with acoustic rhythm guitars backing up the lead synths and guitars. Given that this was recorded between April and November of 1981, I’m tempted to think that the mixture of acoustic guitars and synths might have been influenced by Pete Shelley’s “Homosapien,” but as that single was released in September of that year, it wouldn’t have left much time for Nelson to have picked up the notion and run with it. At the end of the day the big influence here was still YMO. That’s not to say that Nelson couldn’t hear a song one week and record a song inspired by it within a day or two! The man is known to lay down songs like John Henry laying track.

“Bride Of Christ In Autumn” was a shimmering instrumental of English psychedelia featuring backward tapes of percussion with acoustic guitars and summery piano. In future years, Nelson would segregate different vibes and genres in to whole albums [and boxed sets] but here the juxtaposition of the pop and ambient sides of the album make for a rewarding listen that keeps the listener well engaged. Then the 1986 CD of this title had two non-LP B-sides appended to the running order before concluding the album. This was a gambit from the early days of the CD when some thought that the integrity of sides beginning and finishing a CD had some clout, so bonus materials sometimes arrived in the middle instead of the end.

Next: …B-Side Babies

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22 Responses to Record Review: Bill Nelson – The Love That Whirls [Diary of A Thinking Heart] [part 1]

  1. Mark Moerman says:

    I’m fully with you on this one; also one of my alltime favorites and probably my top favorite of Mr Nelson’s work. Is there a better opening track than “Empire of the Senses” anywhere? A high standard indeed. “Flaming Desire” ended up being a big airplay favorite in the early days of KFOG San Francisco. To think of something so off the beaten track getting mainstream airplay…a different era.

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    • MathManDan says:

      KROQ down here in SoCal also played “Flaming Desire” tons. They played “Acceleration” some too.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Mark Moerman – No, you’re right. “Empire Of The Senses” creates a universe around the listener built from cascading energy. This was one of the major albums on my 1985 CD wish list [a real list] that, thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long for with this CD out the next year! It’s perhaps the primary Nelson work for my ears, but then, “Red Noise” is also something else, and I’m very partial to “Drastic Plastic!”

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    • AR_Brooklyn says:

      First heard “Flaming Desire” on the Quake (from SF) and I believe on MTV around 83-84. I was immediately hooked.

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        AR-Brooklyn – Welcome to the comments! Wow, so you saw “Flaming Desire” on MTV? I saw it – once – on TBS’s “Night Tracks.” It was actually easier to see the “Do You Dream In Colour?” clip as it was used in an early episode of “Max Headroom,” the video clip show, not the proto-cyberpunk sci-fi series.

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  2. Steve says:

    I LOVE this album!

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  3. MathManDan says:

    This album has been near the top of my favorites list since its release. I still listen to it quite often. “Empire of the Senses” is probably my favorite track he ever recorded, with second place going to “Another Day Another Ray of Hope” from Chimera.

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  4. Mel Creighton says:

    I love his stuff. His b-sides were always great too. “Flesh” featured an awesome sax riff that I always loved. It really riffed. I think his brother Ian did that solo. Be Bop Deluxe and Nelson’s solo work (Red Noise stuff in particular) are always revisited on my stereo. Tremendously underrated.

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  5. Echorich says:

    For me, the beauty of the early 80s Nelson albums was his way of humanizing synths. It set him apart from what I was, to that point, attracted to in synth music. I agree that he was more influenced by YMO over the more Post Modern European Synth sounds of the time. Flaming Desire was a massive song for me, but as I have matured, the track from The Love That Whirls that most affects me is The October Man. It’s an emotional, dark, song of self examination and coming to terms with the end, that stands strong next to the classic British Film Noir of the same name.

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  6. Andy B says:

    This is a fantastic album. I have the CD reissued in 2005 which contains the Hope For The Heartbeat remix lifted from a promo 12″. There are also two B-sides, including The Passion, which is one of my favourite Bill Nelson tracks of all time. It’s an instrumental and it’s glorious. I guess I’m jumping the gun here.

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    • Vlad says:

      Fully agree on The Passion – fantastic! One of the best “New Wave” instrumentals. Wish Bill would’ve done more in that vein instead of such a load of rather samey atmospheric synth stuff (and that comes from a lover of all things synthetic!).

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Andy B – “The Passion” is one of the best Bill Nelson songs ever recorded. Since I was not reviewing the 12″ of “Flaming Desire,” I didn’t go on about it but I really should have! It seemed like the sort of track that blended Ennio Morricone western soundtrack and moderne dance rock ala Duran Duran. And those styles got on like a house on fire.

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  7. Gavin says:

    A wonderful album indeed.I have the original UK vinyl,then upgraded to the Universal cd reissue more recently.
    “Portrait of Jan with Flowers” is possibly my favourite BN song of all time. I have dozens of his albums,though nowhere near all. Works after around 2000 don’t interest me as it is just essentially guitar noodling and ever more preposterous song titles.
    The Cocteau Records period, when he was far more into synths and experimental recordings, is my favourite period of his work.

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  8. Andy B says:

    Gavin, I agree that his work since around 2000 has been less interesting. His eighties and nineties releases are generally excellent. 1986’s Getting The Holy Ghost Across/On A Blue Wing is my favourite Bill Nelson album of all.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Andy B – It was definitely another high water mark from Nelson. I can’t shake the notion that his major label work got more polish and he hated taking the time to do it. But I can’t say that I minded the results at all! Every album after that had his usual proviso that the finished songs took no more than a few hours from start to finish, and there are gems there for certain [especially in “Blue Moons + Laughing Guitars”], but nothing as dazzling as this album or indeed, “Getting The Holy Ghost Across!” Tracks like “Suvasini/Contemplation” are breathtaking.

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  9. zoo says:

    I bought this a long time ago along with Quit Dreaming and Get Off the Beam…which I’ve listened to more frequently over the years. In fact, I don’t recall listening to The Love That Whirls following that initial spin. That was at least 10 years ago. You’ve inspired me to give it a go again. For the record, I LOVE Chimera, which followed not too long after, so maybe I’m just wrong about TLTW.

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  10. Fantastic stuff. Not sure how I got into Nelson as I wasn’t a Bebop Deluxe fan (although I am now!) but when I fell, I fell hard! Ended up joining the fan club, which was well worth it for all the exclusive singles and EP’s – I’ve never checked so I wonder if any of that stuff was released elsewhere. Very lucky to have seen him in a rare NYC appearance at The Supper Club!

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    • Echorich says:

      Jeremy, if it’s the show from the 80s, I think that was at The Savoy. The Savoy was one of my favorite venues in NYC back then. Nelson’s show was one of the last ones I saw at The Savoy. The last, The Style Council, may have been the last show at the venue prior to it closing and the street being demolished. That same year I saw The Bunnymen there twice and other amazing shows were Duran Duran on their first US Tour and the Rio Tour, Spandau Ballet on the True Tour, OMD and Joe Jackson.

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