[…continued from last post]
This CD had all ten tunes from “Sleep Convention,” but upped the stakes to include two alternate takes of two album tracks as well as the ten songs that would have been on his sophomore album. In effect, we finally got two albums worth of Trees on this long-awaited CD reissue. Things got off to a textbook New Wave start with the electro-bop of “Come Back,” the single from the album. A steady synth pulsebeat and a motorik drum figure gave it the sound of the zeitgeist, but there were complexities lurking right beneath the surface showing that Mr. Conover wasn’t sleepwalking through this process. The slightly atonal synth solo, with his patch shot through with white noise, properly mirrored the anxiety levels of the lovelorn tune, but best of all were the off-beat rhythmic breaks where the drum fills threatened to take the song off rails momentarily.
“Shock Of The New” extrapolated its impetus from New York Times’ art critic Robert Hughes influential treatise on the effects of modern art on society and vice versa to take on the changes that technology was imparting at large on the society of the time. I remember watching the PBS TV series they adapted from the book in 1980, but what I could not have known at the time was how closely its vibe was an astonishing prefiguration of Sparks semi-hit single “Cool Places,” which was released the following year! When “Shock Of The New” begins, the listener would be forgiven for thinking that they were about to hear Sparks and Jane Weidlin’s familiar tune. Was it down to the zeitgeist or the fact that Sparks producer [and former primordial member] Earle Mankey had engineered this album that might account for the eerie similarities. Of course, the themes and melodies are night and day different, but the pulsating synth coupled with that four-on-the-floor drumbeat [not to mention the bpm] are almost of a piece.
The album began on a high plane, but only began to show its cards with the brilliant “Delta Sleep.” The loping backbeat and the twangy, laid back guitar showed a restraint of energy that was contrasted by the propulsive, descending drum fills that made this song barrel irresistibly forward. Conover’s appealing vocals floated over the song like white clouds in a bright blue sky streaked with the sunshine of the synths. The lyrics are a fascinating, cliché-free thread that I’m still trying to parse. They may have to do with the title, which Conover posited as some sort of event in a large structure [possibly a stadium] filled with people on cots. The use of reverse echo here was the first of the slightly psychedelic touches that would make this record stand out in the 1982 milieu. This one worms its way into my skull for long hours at a time and stays there; happily lodged.
The jaunty “No Stranger” contrasted its psychologically fascinating [and potentially dark] “shadow figure” lyric with the brightest, most buoyant music yet on the album. I can quite easily imagine a Fellini-esque circus march video to the pace of this song. The lovely instrumental middle eight was an entrancing keyboard rondo. These tunes were packed with inventive detail that managed to always support, and never obscure the song to its benefit. And this guy was making it all look easy.
What was “side one” peaked with the annoyingly prescient “Midnight In America.” I guess I wasn’t the only one who looked askance at the nascent “Reagan-era” of the period as Conover waded into sociopolitical waters with ease. Fortunately, for us, he remembered to embellish the music with achingly magnificent technological filigree! I am now having serious goosebumps at every instance of the jittery synth hooks juxtaposed against the industrial hum of the reverberant bass and drums underneath it all that demarcate the end of each verse. At this point I had to think, how much more glorious can this album get?
Next: …Side Two Gets Serious!