[…continued from last post]
One of the delights of this CD is not only the sterling album itself reaching our ears on a sliver platter, but the generous abundance of bonus material that more than doubles the number of tracks that were released in 1982. Two alternative versions of songs from the album are the bonus material also available on the DL version of the album. The single “Come Back” was present here in a radically different version that sounded very much like the original album track in terms of the music bed and arrangement, but where it differed, it did so dramatically.
The “moping guy” New Wave lament of the album was turned into a cartoony lover’s quarrel duet with backing vocalist [and future Mrs. Conover] Missy Zisso going toe-to-toe with Dane Conover in a hilarious version of the song that had a completely different call and response lyrical structure. I loved the “power tool solo” that captured the chaos. Dane wanted smashing plates but engineer Earle Mankey put his foot down. Sigh. Does it cross a cartoonish line in the sand? I don’t know. Ask Thomas Dolby. But it was impossible to ignore and the conflict really brought the listener into the song.
The second alternative version was the even more magnificent take of “11:00 A.M.” where the music was whipped up into an even more Euro-sounding wall-of-synth that actually brought chills to my spine now. The motorik tempo and the imperious synths immediately brought to mind another record that would not exist for another two years: Blaine L. Reininger’s “Mystery + Confusion,” but even that wonderful song didn’t sound half this good! The vibe here had a dark portentous edge that worked like a fiend for me, even as the suit who signed Conover to MCA on the strength of this song’s demo, was pining for the lighter touch he’d heard up front. Too bad for any fans of this album as they had missed out on the definitive take of “11:00 A.M.” for 38 years!
What followed these were the ten songs that were ostensibly the follow up album that never was, “Pandora’s Box.” When the track “Fire” started, it bore small resemblance to the New Wave technopop of the “Sleep Convention” album. First off, there was a full band with Conover here. In addition to drummer Martin Eldridge, Jeff Becker [Four Eyes, Lovers Under Pressure] played guitar and Lee Knight [Joey Harris + The Speedsters] was on bass and they moved the needle closer to the “rock” spectrum, away from pop. Mr. Conover sounded here like Neil Young making a New Wave record, albeit less nasally. But his phrasing was very close to Neil’s sound, and this was definitely rock music with the vocals taking a defiant tone. What it didn’t sound like was a demo. This was a full-bodied production that sounded more elaborate than the album that preceded it. Trees were boldly going where they had not gone before.
Then “Never Believe It” took that conceit as far as it could go with miles of more bad attitude from Conover and some muscular strat-wrangling by Becker that was nowhere near the debut album sound. Then came the quirky throwback of “Searchin'” which sounded like it might have been a demo for the first album since the sound was definitely New Wave with squelchy synthesizer glissandos shot throughout the tune as well as the trusty Arp synthesizer.
After the surprising one-two punch of the “Fire” and “Never Believe It”, the rest of the material here was closer to the pop sound Trees were best known for. Some of the songs here showed that Trees were bending with the winds of time. “Runnin’ Wild” showed evidence of newer digital synths and even [unless I miss my guess] a sampling keyboard. I’m betting that Conover was very excited about developments like MIDI and was in a hot rush to incorporate the latest tech into his toolbox. After all, making a “one-man” album without MIDI involved a lot of laborious work at that time.
“Move On” was a plaintive pop ballad with appealing vocals while “Don’t Look In Her Eyes” was an even more clever love song with contrarian lyrics that really made a case for the paradoxically sweet sentiments. Tracks like “In A Booth” and “Live like You” were simpler demo sounding tracks that used rhythm boxes and were a far cry from the blood and thunder that had opened up “Pandora’s Box.” Speaking of which, that would-be “title track” was a [way too] perceptive look at where we might be today; acquitted by history of the intervening 35+ years. Sigh.
Rubellan Remasters has done us all a great service by not only making this CD happen, but by making it happen in the best way possible. Bringing this under-appreciated cult release into the future and not only mastering the audio with sensitive ears, but also involving Mr. Conover to oversee the liner notes/photos as well as bringing the album that never was [and dynamite alternative versions] in as the all important bonus tracks was best of breed work. It bears mentioning that only the CD has the unreleased “Pandora’s Box” album material on tracks 13-22. Buyers of the DL only get the ten tracks and two alternate cuts.
I will have to say up front that my ears were all the poorer for never having bought a copy of this album in the nearly 40 years of its existence, but I’m making up for it now with all the enthusiasm that I can muster. Dane Conover should have been talked about in the same breath as The Buggles, Sparks, and early Thomas Dolby. He certainly had as many ideas per minute as Trevor Horn with a portfolio of detailed and engaging arrangements. Not to mention his great singing with such a wide emotional palette. With “Red Car,” he vaulted far past where Dolby would not be for another two years! It would have been the centerpiece of “The Flat Earth” in Dolby’s hands.
But in 1982, Dolby was trafficking in the same old cold wave energy that was dogging technopop from day one – no matter how capably he was trying to move forward. Trees were creating machine energy songs that were warm, humane, and rich for all of the thought and technology that went into them. Seemingly without much effort. This gent sounded like he had talent and ideas to spare and the scarcity of “Sleep Convention” in the marketplace until now was a head-scratching moment of breathtaking proportions. Correct that injustice by buying a copy here. This was clearly the best reissue of 2018 and I wish I had bought my copy immediately.
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