[…continued from last post]
I should have known that by this time that The Blow Monkeys had plenty of fuel in their tanks! As if the previous eleven albums hadn’t made it fully apparent! I had seen an interview with Dr. Robert where he mentioned that while writing the new album, which would mark the 40th years since The Blow Monkeys had formed and released their first single, that he probably felt that he should leave the introspective tunes for his next solo album. What the next album held in store for us was an astonishing trawl through the history of Soul music with some amazing side trips into Funk, pop, and even Disco.
The Blow Monkeys
Journey To You | 2021
The first thing we heard sounded like a band tuning up on stage while an audience was eagerly awaiting the next song in a set. Then there was a swell of strings and then Jacko Peake’s flute fluttered through the scene like a downy feather in an updraft; caught in a ray of sunlight along with the dust motes as time stood still before the song launched out of the dock and displaced the ocean with a roll of the tympani.
“Dust At Her Feet” was an impressive, heartfelt paean to an obviously incredible woman who could inspire such a glowing tribute. The stately waltz-time of the song gave it an emotional gravitas that was offset by the insouciant vocal of Dr. Robert; keeping things from getting too grandiose with its humility. The song really felt as if it had been recorded live, but perhaps with added overdubs of strings, woodwinds, and keyboards filling out what was perhaps picked as the right take from a live performance as its basis. What an elegant, eloquent opener for that would be a peak album for the band.
But that was just the opening number. What would follow would astonish, as did “Time Storm,” which had been pre-released in July of last year, ahead of the album by many months. The music that unfolded here was a 50 year throwback to the sort of lush, ornate, supper-club Soul that The Delfonics made their métier. That sort of no-expense-spared vibe that leads me to question how albums this luscious and tactile can be made in the present era of impoverishment on a crowdsourced budget. I suppose that if the will and passion are there, money is a secondary concern.
I’m pretty old, so I can say this with some authority…music this glorious has not been commonplace in generations. Yet all of the arrangement detail is certainly there in this song. The swaggering brass. The rolling tympani. The phalanx of tambourines. The soaring strings that took this song aloft. The impassioned sax solo in the instrumental break was eagerly matched by the acid rock solo from Dr. Robert’s guitar. The touch of synth before Dr. Robert took the song to its climax with some completely necessary melisma. With the final coda of brass and an unexpected cold ending leaving us in breathless anticipation for still more! It was the sort of song that is actually difficult to listen to all the way through because the first impulse after the introduction is to start it again immediately!
The sumptuous intro to “More Than A Miracle” posited a widescreen Disco of the Love Unlimited orchestra stripe. The stately BMP didn’t rush things a bit and I had to love the two interjections of “ow!” by Dr. Robert as the backbeats kicked in. This was another pre-release single dropped in April of 2021. This one had a nice drop at the middle eight followed by piano glissandos that left room for the bass of Mick Anker to shine. Surprisingly, this one had another cold ending just when we least expected it following what seemed like a Neville Henry sax solo, with his last note echoing in the emptiness.
Another amazing single was the downbeat slice of SynthFunk “One More Time. Sounding like an unexpected cross pollination of Cheryl Lynn’s “Got To Be Real” with some Gap Band synth bass that swapped the euphoria of the Lynn tune with some serious paranoia and self laceration as the song painted a picture of a love affair in fatal decline. There was also a fascinating hint of dub in Dr. Robert’s vocal and backing vocal production. And this had the first overt drum machine action in a Blow Monkeys track in longer than I could remember. The delicious synth arpeggios also brought fascination to the aura of doom the song contained. And this one also had a cold ending…hmmm.
The last song on “Side One” of the album was one which had filtered out earlier back in 2019 as a track on Dr. Robert’s solo EP “Cosmic Mayhem.” The good Doctor had found a used Casio keyboard in a car boot/garage sale and bought it to see what would transpire and “Each And Every One” was an impressive minimal Soul song over a Technopop skeleton with Dr. Robert holding falsetto notes as long as I’d ever heard from him on a track that would have done Curtis Mayfield proud. The EP snuck out in 2019 and I didn’t actually find out where to buy the DL until recently. So I still need to get that material. But that was then and this is now.
What was impressive was how Dr. Robert had revisited the slim bones of the song and had re-recorded it for this album as a fully-blown Stax classic that never was! The funky drumming of Crispin Taylor pulled us right into the song immediately and the chorused saxes of Mr. Henry soared above the lush contingent of strings as the rhythm guitar licks of Dr. Robert coaxed the song along before the sweet backing vocal chorus of Gina Foster and Romy Deighton set the stage for Dr. Robert’s vocal.
He was singing here in his usual wheelhouse and far from the Curtis Mayfield approach of the 2019 version. The pizzicato string filigree courtesy of Nigel Hopkins provided marvelous interplay with the funk drum fills that Mr. Taylor was liberally dispensing. The result was a warm wash of Soul that flowed over the listener like an old friend one hadn’t seen since 1971! The album was half over and yes, each one of the five songs so far had been released as “singles” in this fallen world! And each one of them was completely and decisively marking this album as the ultimate statement in Soul by The Blow Monkeys a full 40 years in to their always fascinating career. Could the album possibly continue at this high level of achievement?
Next… That Would Be…YES!