Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Cliff RICHARD: Love Songs



(#248: 11 July 1981, 5 weeks)

Track listing: Miss You Nights/Constantly/Up In The World/Carrie/A Voice In The Wilderness/The Twelfth Of Never/I Could Easily Fall (In Love With You)/The Day I Met Marie/Can’t Take This Hurt Anymore/A Little In Love/The Minute You’re Gone/Visions/When Two Worlds Drift Apart/The Next Time/It’s All In The Game/Don’t Talk To Him/When The Girl In Your Arms Is The Girl In Your Heart/Theme For A Dream/Fall In Love With You/We Don’t Talk Anymore

“Libra is the zodiac’s Renaissance man. For him life is art, and he approaches existence as would a painter faced with a blank canvas, feeling empowered to create a world based solely on his idealized visions while striving to encapture sweeping abstract realities that he perceives as having remained heretofore out of humanity’s reach. He is naturally attuned to the ordered, nonchaotic energies of the universe and is thus both highly principled and philosophical. Libra is a perfectionist, if not a platonist, forever focusing on conditions that might bring betterment, both for himself and for others; and yet wearing rose-colored glasses can also set him up for great disappointment.”
(Stella Starsky and Quinn Cox, Sexology: The Astrology of Sex and the Sexes, New York: HarperCollins, 2004)

“The word is not the thing.”
(Paul Child, after Alfred Korzybski, quoted by Julia Child in My Life in France, New York: Random House, 2006)

In July 1981, I didn’t really care what was number one. I remembered “Ghost Town” being top of the singles, but the number one album? It could have been anybody; it wouldn’t have registered with me. On the fifteenth day of that month, my father died, eleven days past his fiftieth birthday. He’d had a heart attack the morning before; I happened to be at home, got our GP in, who called the ambulance, and spent the rest of the day zigzagging between Airdrie, Uddingston, Glasgow and Bothwell with my mother (although Airdrie was just the other side of the M8 motorway from us, there was no direct rail or bus link, and getting there necessitated going right into Glasgow by train and coming right out again). On the Tuesday afternoon my father was awake, alert, sitting up in bed and talking. It looked like a warning, and nothing more; life would have to change.

But on the Wednesday morning, around 7:40 am, the ward sister at Monklands Hospital called and asked for my mother and myself to go straight back to the hospital; my father had taken a turn for the worse, and there might not be much time left. By the time we got there it was too late; he had had a second, far more serious heart attack and not recovered. He was the first dead person I had seen in my life – so far I have only seen two – and, as a person I thought I’d known all of my life, I looked at him, cold and resting, and wondered whether I’d ever known him at all. Who was this? Wherever my dad was now, he wasn’t there.

People were sympathetic but not surprised; it had long been on the cards, he had been given warning after warning, none of the wonderful drugs now available to treat and control these things yet existed. Some said, for him it must have been a curious relief, to get out of a world with which he had struggled for far too long.

Cliff Richard, whose father died about twenty years earlier, when he himself was not yet twenty-one.

These early semi-orphaned boys who abruptly find they are compelled to turn into men.

Because losing a parent at such an early age changes you, and probably in the longer term the course of your life. Things that once were vital are found no longer to matter. Goals you had set yourself – or, in my case, had been set for me – seemed spurious, outdated. What do you do, you who have been left behind? You degenerate into destructive decades of moping. Or the safety valve in your mind clicks “ON” and you do your best to keep going and make everyone else bereaved around you at least reasonably happy. Or you guiltily see it as something of a liberation; the darkness is gone, and you can finally burst out of your imposed chrysalis and…begin to live?

I was set for university, and my mother was insistent that I go. By doing so, I would leave her alone at a time when she least needed or wanted to be left alone. But no, leave home; it’s what my father had wanted for me, go to another city, study, make something of yourself. It was “expected.” About a year before he died, however, my father mentioned to me that he had spoken to some people in the Outram press works (Evening Times, Glasgow Herald) about getting me an apprenticeship in journalism. What did I think? I look back now and part of me thinks: yes, I should have gone for that, I’d have been set up to go into a proper profession, as a trained professional, and probably learned a lot more about the world by doing so. University could wait.

Except it couldn’t. A child prodigy who had appeared on the front of sixties newspapers couldn’t be “expected” to settle for being “only” a journalist. And in any case, I would have stayed in Glasgow at a time when I felt I had seen all I wanted to see in the city, and was consumed by a craving to leave home and go elsewhere. There were reasons for my opting for university, and the other part of me knows that if I hadn’t gone, things that did happen to me would never have come to pass.

But leaving meant leaving everything, and everybody, behind; I was unsentimental about that in 1981 and am probably a lot more sentimental about it now.

“Thinking of my going,
How to cut the thread and leave it all behind.”
(Cliff Richard, “Miss You Nights”)

I think Cliff Richard was far more affected by his father’s death than he tends to let on. Certainly it was the major catalyst in his move towards Christianity, but there are other relevant factors too. In 1961 he was seeing an Australian dancer, Delia Wicks, who was one of the Television Toppers in the Black And White Minstrel Show. They were involved seriously enough for marriage to be considered. But shortly after his father’s death, Cliff wrote to her calling the relationship off. “"Being a pop singer I have to give up one priceless thing,” he said, “…the right to any lasting relationship with any special girl."

Maybe he saw what happened with Marty Wilde’s career, which ended almost the instant he became a husband and then a father, necessitating a move into songwriting. But in the letter, he continued: "I couldn't give up my career, besides the fact that my mother and sisters, since my father's death, rely on me completely.”

One is frequently reminded that Cliff is Anglo-Indian, and, like Italian families, the family unit is paramount; everything else is considered secondary. The need to earn a living and support what remains of your family.

But then he says: “I have showbiz in my blood now and I would be lost without it."

In other words, he is married, can only be married, to The Game (“It’s All In The Game,” as he would put it). As a Libran – and in common with those other sorely ambitious Librans who meticulously build careers for themselves and then hide behind pseudonyms (Sting, Flea, Marc Bolan, Meat Loaf) – he is entrapped by the realisation that the career, the showbiz, is the thing he has chiefly wanted, the prize he values most. And everything else, including people, must if necessary be sacrificed on the altar of entertainment probity.

Perhaps that is a tad too extreme. But when faced with the twenty songs on Love Songs, which span twenty-one years, the listener is confronted with the realisation that in not one of these songs is Cliff securely and happily with someone. Make no mistake about the ambition; on his twenty-first birthday, you will recall, he flew to Australia to begin a tour, and the album 21 Today may betray a trace of defiance in these candles he is attempting to blow out.

However, you have to wonder exactly what is happening in Love Songs, since these are not comforting fireside homilies to company and affection. Eleven of its songs reappear from 40 Golden Greats - a number one album less than four years before this one – but it is clear that these have been very carefully selected and re-sequenced. This record is trying to tell us a story, and perhaps it’s about time we listened.

I make no secret of the fact that so far on Then Play Long I have been more often irritated than pleased by Cliff, vexed at the options he didn’t take, aghast at the seeming compromises for which he settled. But he, maybe above everybody else in this tale, needs to be followed closely and continuously; he is, after all, only the third act, after the Shadows and the Rolling Stones, to score number one albums in three different decades.

And perhaps I was a little too presumptive about 40 Golden Greats, too impatient for the Sex Pistols to begin happening. I groaned at what I heard as complacent candyfloss and waited for the seventies and for him to get serious, and better. But these songs, when re-placed on Love Songs, take on a new meaning and architectural design.

So what he is trying to tell us?

Look at him on that cover…leaning against a lamppost on a promenade in a seaside town which looks like Brighton but could be somewhere else. The sun is setting behind him, so an alternate title for the record might have been Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me. He is dressed smart casual, jacket draped over his left shoulder, knitted waistcoat and full-sleeved (beige?) shirt, his right hand in half a pocket of his jeans – and he is cleverly trying to hide the option that, in 1981, these jeans are flared – and carefully scuffed sneakers. He is looking slightly to the left of camera – though the pose could still be construed as looking at us. He is forty years old. His hair is that of the trainee suburban town planner (eleven years previously, Cliff and Hank Marvin had issued a diatribe against town planning in their single “The Joy Of Living”). He looks a little proud, and more…resigned. Not resigned in the Number 6 sense, but a sense of having resigned himself to his lot in life; he is famous, he is loved, he is perhaps even respected, but he is alone.

On the rear cover he stands in profile shadow, on the beach (the song “On The Beach” does not reappear here), his body slightly jutting out like a harbour quay, staring at the sea, a wall of waves apparently set to engulf him; but he does not move, cannot move, would not want to move. An alternate title for this record might have been English Channel Blue.

But the image is what he wants us to see, in common with most pop performers. There is a sense of invulnerability which I think the cover picture is attempting to convey, the notion that, well, this is me at forty, and if I do the right things, I can look like this forever…maybe I can even live forever. Photography bestows its own code of unreality and immortality upon the viewers transfixed by what it offers. Cliff at forty…if only we could all stay forty…or remember when we were forty…forty, an age which to me, in 1981, seemed unreal, at an unfathomably far distance, and which now cannily recalls itself as a memoir of a time in one’s life when everything was…still to be done, or achieved.

That this is not Cosy Cliff - indeed, in the record’s key song he makes the words “cosy cove” sound like a death sentence – is immediately apparent by the fact that the record begins with “Miss You Nights,” a song in which he, like his cover image, appears hurt but resigned to his loneness. When I wrote about it in my piece on 40 Golden Greats I said some lazy stuff about it being perhaps his “greatest performance,” even his “key to the kingdom.” I’m not dissenting from the record’s greatness…but it’s not even the best performance on this record. However, it does set a tone more in keeping, in Sinatra terms, with Where Are You? than Songs For Young Lovers…and, as a highly elevated bar, its placement suggests a challenge; can he better this?

In these songs, he’s either abandoned love, or been abandoned by it, or else he doesn’t have the nerve to make love happen (in “Theme For A Dream” he can’t even summon up the courage to speak to her – and talking, as we will see, is an important point in this record), or else love, or lovers, exist only in a dream, or as an idealisation, Carrie probably no more real than Marie or the girl in his heart.

He performs these songs, by and large, as though he were more concerned by the image, or the look of love, than the reality.

“Constantly” is one of several songs where his lover is so far away from him it makes no difference (in “A Voice In The Wilderness” she may not even be on this planet). The placing of “Carrie” next to “Wilderness” is particularly loaded with subtext; in neither song is there any concrete evidence of the girl herself, but one could easily be the sequel to the other. “Wilderness,” with its explicit Biblical reference, is a curiously desolate performance (Marvin’s guitar lines as distant and intangible as those on “Surf’s Up”) whose lofty yet blankly sung words suggest that Cliff’s lover has moved to another world – the “We had a quarrel/I was unkind” middle-eight is a red herring, but in the same section he sings “Love made me blind” in a descending manner which suggests the last three words being casually tossed into a wastebin (and yet “Love made me blind” will resurface elsewhere on the record). He sings “My heart was so heavy” as though audibly sagging from the effort of bearing its weight. “Be true to her memory, she’ll come back someday”; this is verging on Joe Meek territory. And God is talking to him.

Maybe God is also the bored guy on reception in the apartment block where Carrie once lived. Where has she gone? Was she ever anywhere? The song doesn’t provide any explicit answers, but Cliff’s performance fills in all the blanks; his heart wells up on the extended “time” in the line “And time is not your own.” His pained exclamation of “CARRIE!,” going straight into the sax solo, betrays hitherto untold reservoirs of contained grief. And yet there is also a grown-up impatience at large – “The young wear their freedom by cheap perfume” – and by the time of his exasperated “You’re just another message on a payphone wall!,” and given the song’s melodic and rhythmic resemblance to “Devil Woman,” it’s probably safe to assume that Carrie – if she ever existed – is one of those kinds of fleeing spirit. She left him for the wilderness, and he has now given up the search, a generation later.

The old songs from the sixties, which on first glance seem to suggest a near-schizophrenic determination to view everything as part of the same insoluble puzzle, cast new perspectives on what comes after them. Although this is by my count the 968th version of “Twelfth Of Never” to turn up on Then Play Long, and although I feel that my life would not be seriously impaired if I never heard the song again, I do have to admit that Cliff’s reading is maybe the most convincing, not to mention that this performance is the string that ties the rest of the record together. He sings of his devotion to “love” or the ideal of love, but it’s unclear whether he is singing it to anybody in particular or simply praying. In his way, it is Cliff’s “When I Fall In Love” – this is what I believe love should be about – his declaration of principles, and he enunciates the song beautifully, getting in every clear consonant of the word “twelfth,” as well as singing, rather than simply reciting, it, as witness his six-syllable “I” in “I need you” or the way his voice swoops up like a gannet on the second syllable of “poets.”

The rest of his sixties, as represented here, is fantasy; the faster songs do not imply hastening of commitment – “I Could Easily Fall,” the really rather sinister “Don’t Talk To Him” (in which latter he seems to be willing a relationship to end, so intoxicated and toxic is his paranoia – and there’s that “talk” or “don’t talk” again) – while the ballads, or slower songs anyway, sing of things that are less than real (“The Day I Met Marie,” “Visions,” that brooding inversion of “Silent Night”) or muse about solitude (“The Minute You’re Gone,” “The Next Time” with the latter’s denial that the singer is “losing sleep”; throughout side two in particular, the listener is made sorely aware that the record is steadily working up towards something).

Or else tinker with the notion of romance for fear of causing it to happen. Consider the seemingly innocuous “Fall In Love With You,” the album’s oldest song. On YouTube there is a lovely little performance of it, from a black-and-white 1960 ATV show, perhaps Sunday Night At The London Palladium, where a thin, silver-suited Cliff faces a screaming (but invisible) female audience, says almost apologetically that he and the Shadows are going to play their “new record.” The Shadows are instantly vapourised into darkness, leaving Cliff, alone in the spotlight, singing the song to his unseen fans. And it really is a strange song, the more you delve into it; if this is his “first romance,” then why is he “falling in love again”? Why does he ask “Why must you lead your heart and keep we two apart?” – another line that will come back on this record to haunt him? “Why couldn’t I,” he asks, “why shouldn’t I,” he insists, “fall in love with you?” All the while, the camera is steadily closing in on Cliff’s face, and I think: where I have I seen those eyes, that bone structure before (and both are subtly different from the minutely altered bone structure and eyes we see on the cover of Love Songs, since they have yet to have twenty years of things happening to them)? Then, right at the close of the song, when the screaming resumes, Cliff offers a seemingly sheepish but actually quite knowing grin, and it becomes clear – Christ, this is Marc Bolan! With a touch of Adam Ant! A scary performance, if you’re not prepared for it.

And yet the song fits in perfectly with the album’s newest song, “A Little In Love.” Here he is trying the same sort of chat-up, but life has taught him to be a touch more confident, a lot less offputtingly nervous – the canine whimper of “Don’t tell me, I know” would never occur to this guy – and perhaps it’s the same woman (“It’s been so long, you say you’ve had fun”) who’s been hurt by life and love, and is now coming back for a second chance. He’s learned to tease (“Please Don’t Tease” also long gone) with his smiling “You’re just a LITTLE in love,” but gives himself away with the highly meaningful “Whooo, oooh…I need you so.” Alan Tarney’s songwriting and production rise to meet the new need – there’s a lovely Gerry Rafferty chord sequence bridging the choruses and verses – and forty-year-old Cliff sings as though he still has some kind of future, based on a succession of some kind of futures.

And then it was into the later seventies, and are we anywhere near the realer Cliff yet? There are four songs still to be talked about in this piece. Of these, only three were singles; one is an album track, one only charted at the very bottom of the Top 50, one did not chart at all, and the fourth was the biggest single of his career. So we are at that point where perhaps “hits” do not matter so much to Cliff; despite the big comeback with “Devil Woman” and the procession of British rock notables sporting I’m Nearly Famous badges, nothing between that song and “We Don’t Talk Anymore” – a period of some three years - went top ten.

It is also noticeable that when Cliff puts out a song he really loves, that he truly believes in, whether it’s “The Day I Met Marie” or “Miss You Nights,” it doesn’t do as well commercially as some of his more routine stuff. But go to any Cliff fan forum of your choice and you will quickly see that his late seventies work is the music that is most avidly loved and cherished by his hardcore fans, who swear by Every Face Tells A Story or Green Light (with good reason). The songs that Radio 2 and Magic FM will never play.

Let’s start with “Can’t Take The Hurt Anymore,” a song from Green Light which flopped as a single in 1978. “Now that the past has ended,” declaims a Cliff suddenly aware of his own history, “My life’s an open door.” He dwells slowly and destructively on what he’s lived through, and the sorrowful conclusion is; no, he can’t carry on with this, he’s been here before and more effort COULD be made but the pain is too much. He crouches down to his audience and very methodically picks through the bones of conflicting emotions which the song has presented. As an actor, this is a performance he couldn’t have given in 1962, or 1968. Bruce Welch’s production – this whole album could pass as a Citizen Kane with Norrie Paramor and Bruce Welch’s versions of Cliff – is subtle and inventive; after Cliff asks, agonisingly, “Can’t we find the light bright enough to guide us?,” Welch obligingly puts in some abstract synthesised whooshes over a crunchy acoustic guitar. As Cliff’s agony becomes more pronounced, so does his voice get higher; his climactic “’Cause I would if I could and I TRY” has the “TRY” segue seamlessly into the electric guitar solo; at song’s end, the guitar hovers on its highest note, hanging on in the wretched expectation of hope.

The whole album is, of course, building up to “We Don’t Talk Anymore” but for reasons which will become clear I’m going to talk about it here, with some scene-setting:

In the late summer of 1979 I returned from a most enjoyable month’s holiday in Italy – the best holiday I ever had, really – to find, amongst other things, a stiffly-backed buff envelope containing my SCE O Grade results (all good, and some notably better than good), the Specials performing "Gangsters" and Steve Beresford with the Flying Lizards performing "Money" on TOTP and again turning my world around on its axis, the Police suddenly and unexpectedly megastars…and, among all this pleasing avant-garde turmoil, Cliff Richard at number one for the first time in over a decade with one of the most effortlessly great of all pop records. Who would have thought it (as it turned out, Richard Williams did, in his Melody Maker column)?

"We Don’t Talk Anymore" was a Tarney song, but a Welch production, and the Shadow makes an expert job of acclimatising Cliff’s personality in a fairly fearless futuristic setting. The song is synth-dominant, but in the Abba sense, including the same artful dramatic use of lead guitar. Cliff rides the song’s escalating waves sublimely as he describes a love suddenly withdrawn from him, the apparent cheerfulness of his delivery slowly melting as we realise his true hurt; this is the result of all the pain and resentment that have steadily been building up throughout the two sides of Love Songs.

The genius of the song and arrangement lies in how everything keeps cumulatively rising and rising throughout – the key, the modulations, the emotion. Everything strives to reach a peak until it all appears ready to boil over with Cliff’s frantic double-bluff of "But I ain’t losing sleep/And I ain’t counting sheep" (you don’t believe him for a second) and the harmonies cresting at an impossible falsetto before Cliff’s near-screamed "ANYMORE" sends the whole thing crashing to earth – a gesture defined by the record’s essential punctum of the abruptly diving synthesiser chord, as though the machine has been momentarily switched off.

But it swiftly begins again, and once more Cliff attempts to climb that peak, and like an ant brushed off near the summit by a mischievous human finger, he falls back to the ground again and again, but is never bruised, although his emoting becomes more and more tortured with each chorus – and this mirrors the precise tenor of the song, which is about his lover suddenly and unexpectedly turning away from him – such that multitracked Cliffs of backing vocals (and, according to Wikipedia, also Bryan Ferry – another Libra man) are reduced to chanting "she-ee-ee-ee-eep," or perhaps they’re taunting the hapless lead Cliff and his nature. But as a pop record it works with meticulous brilliance and could virtually serve as a master template on how to make pop.

Then again, it might be the easiest thing in the world to make pop – if all you want is to make pop.

Or has Harry Webb actually got a lot more to do with Gary Webb, who succeeded him at number one in 1979, than you might think?

“No one part of [the Libra man] is phony in the least. It’s just that artifice – the word stems from art - is indigenous to the one male born under this inanimate star sign. But isn’t art artifice? Doesn’t it imitate life? Or vice versa? Libra man is a living, breathing exploration of these essential questions. He represents life lived as a sort of performance art, begging the question, can not the same be true for any of us? Admittedly, organizing and coordinating the chorus of selves that make up his naturally faceted personality does require a great deal of orchestration – in the strictest sense of the word.”
(Starsky and Cox, op. cit.)

Nobody can hope to close in on Cliff Richard, to find out what makes him do what he does. He is as genially elusive as a British Bizarro world version of Warren Beatty could hope to be. There are two songs to go on this record, and they are the two “most important” songs, whatever that might mean, apart from their not being in sequence. But if we are to attempt to understand the forty-year-old man on the cover, these songs, which appeared on the same 1977 album (the aforementioned Every Face Tells A Story), get us closer to him, or further away from him, than most.

“Up In The World” was written, and originally recorded, by Clifford T Ward. As with Cliff’s reading, the other Cliff is accompanied largely by an elaborate string orchestration. Ward’s gradual transition from disappointment to resentment is brilliantly handled; in the crucial final verse, Ward works up to an anguished, sustained high register that makes the song almost a British equivalent of Neil Young’s “A Man Needs A Maid.” The hurt awe of the first verse and the poorly concealed rage of the third – they are symmetrical in construction; there is no chorus as such – are bridged by a second verse that ranges from regret (“And it’s such a shame” – that shame will return) to condemnation (“With your weak excuses and your condescending ways/And all too frequent nights alone”).

The song seems spiteful, and before this year is ended there will come another song in which a man expresses resentment at how his former lover has risen from nobody to celebrity and is now shutting him out, like Prince Hal did Falstaff. That song will prevent Cliff Richard from having the Christmas number one, and unlike “Up In The World,” gives the woman a chance to express her side of the story.

I’m not sure that Cliff nails it. There is a terrible anger, an ire even, buried within the song’s courtliness, but Cliff doesn’t quite bring it out, or bring it off. The meditations on what the past might have meant to them (“All those halcyon days of love”) are spot on but Cliff sounds wounded where perhaps he needs to sound a little arrogant, since the song carries its own poison.

“Warmth returns to cold and poison into pain…”

It is a song that was hardly noticed, in the summer of 1977. Too many other, louder things drowned it out and it was fortunate to get to #46 as a single.

Yet it is truly Cliff Richard’s greatest performance, and maybe one of the half-dozen greatest performances by any artist on Then Play Long to date. It is the reason, or one of the reasons, why I am now close to having written five thousand words on a TV-advertised compilation album (EMTV 27).

All of the Every Face Tells A Story album is worth listening to; if you want nearly unbearable poignancy about the past, and Cliff’s past in particular, find the 2002 CD issue and the bonus track “No One Waits.” But, even in this context, the song stands out.

The song is not by a “name” songwriter. Neither was “Miss You Nights”; Cliff just listened to whatever songs came his way and picked the ones he liked, regardless of author. Peter Sills – who also composed the title track of the parent album – was, and probably still is, as far as I understand it, a music teacher based in the Billericay/Basildon area of Essex (I wonder if he taught the young Depeche Mode; Martin Gore’s trapdoor-like chord sequences seem to indicate that something was passed on) and sometime aspiring songwriter.

As I say, nobody noticed “When Two Worlds Drift Apart” at the time, apart from Noel Edmonds, who made it record of the week on his Radio 1 breakfast show, Cliff himself, and presumably his closest-knit fans. But, like “Being Boring” in another time, people gradually came to realise that this was one of the artist’s big ones; a song which in a lot of ways is still an open secret, loved and admired by Cliff’s fans but unknown to virtually everyone else.

For a song that speaks of “worlds” it is unique on this record because it draws out its parameters to encompass, not just Cliff and his imagined or abandoned love, but the wider world. It has the sort of chord sequence so divine that you wonder how nobody else managed or bothered to think of it; I am reminded at different times during the song of “In The Court Of The Crimson King,” the yet-to-be-written “Because I Love You (The Postman Song)” and the Blue Nile’s “From A Late Night Train” (this is a VERY Blue Nile song, and if Cliff wants an eleventh-hour comeback he should work with Paul Buchanan on the next record) and…

…well, not that Cliff would have known about it, because it only came out as a bonus track on the deluxe 2008 reissue, but structurally the song is very similar to the instrumental “Mexico” on Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue, to which Love Songs provides a surprising British counterpart. There are no musings on dirty water or the environment, as such, but a deeper congruent feeling of a spent, or wasted, Aquarian age; what, indeed have we done?

If the subject matter and construction of “Up In The World” really require a Scott Walker to do it justice (think “Windows Of The World”), then “When Two Worlds” is a song that Walker could have imagined – the “We live on different floors”/”But now we talk an octave higher in droning tones” sections could have come straight off “Always Coming Back To You” – but perhaps only somebody with the authority and history of Cliff could have sung.

“We were the victims of our age,” he sings near the beginning of the song, and it’s not difficult to place these thoughts within a wider remit – his time has passed, and he knows it, but can’t really understand why. “We changed our world/Waiting for it all to end”; he acknowledges that he helped build his present, without being remotely moved to demolish it. His four “It’s such a shame”s are strategically placed; the second and third are met by a high, keening string drone, and with each recapitulation, their delivery descends from philosophical to tearful. The word “claim” is also used for rhetorical impact, first in terms of “the world outside,” and secondly, in terms of what “a poet claimed” about loving making one blind.

“It’s such a shame…but who’s to blame?”

Mention should be made of Tony Rivers and the Castaways, who offer crucial harmonic support throughout “Miss You Nights” and reappear, like dimly lit harbour lights, at key points throughout “When Two Worlds.” Twice Cliff trades desperate “Remember”s with them – as if he can no longer remember why, or how, he has ended up here, leaning against a lamppost on a promenade.

I have seen the video for the song; Cliff is standing, or leaning against a post, on a harbour quay in what looks like somewhere in Cornwall. Around him, life goes on; cars and people pass by, but his gaze is steadily fixed on the sky. He hardly moves (he is wearing a summer T-shirt and a pair of loon pants, as anyone in 1977 Blackpool would have done).

He is thinking about that harbour. The one where they took the boat out when they were seventeen. They try to penetrate the outside world – but give up on it pretty quickly (“But we preferred the greenery to the scenery of the sea”). While they are “tied up” in their “cosy cove,” harbour lights appear, as does the high string drone. An infinity – not that far from American Music Club’s “Last Harbor” – is intimated, one that they are too frightened to cross.

So they stay where they are, and steadily diminish, but that’s not the whole reason why things decline; Cliff sings “But love is really crystal clear/It’s only when you need someone the clouds will soon appear.” In other words, he has no problems with the idea of love, but when the reality happens, the picture becomes muddy and confused.

And so the song ends, Cliff remembering, remembering, that he is trapped in a fantasy of love, as he has been throughout the whole of Love Songs, too trapped to form any meaningful relationship. The whole scenario, when not told in melancholy flashbacks, seems to amount to little more than one date at a time, one meaningful engagement…but nothing further, nothing in the form of commitment.

One has to wonder whether this is where playing pop, straight, ultimately gets you. The singer – or should that be the protagonist? – is slow to realise that the word “love” is not the thing called “love.” He obsesses over love but repeatedly misses or blows chances, and so he is left with his self, on a cold, dark seafront, awaiting engulfment by the waves.

But “When Two Worlds” has precisely the same subject matter as “We Don’t Talk Anymore” – the latter always a more disturbing 1979 number one than “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?,” though the two are umbilically related, and the third by extension – and was ignored while “We Don’t Talk” was hailed. What does he have to do, this Cliff? Every time he goes into a studio or onto a stage, he must feel like I sometimes feel, as a writer; you don’t go in there, or on there, with an ambition to be average – you are, somehow, somewhere in your mind, determined that you are going to be brilliant. Somewhere, not overexposed. Because if I decided that I was going to write the best piece about Cliff Richard that anybody had ever written, you would have had to wait another ten years before I had written anything. You listen to a record, try to make connections and make the best you can out of the evidence that you have.

All I know is that, just as there is something of 1982 in what you might call Cliff’s lexicon of love, there is still a huge, unexpected slice of 1980 in this record; a pain that maybe the artist only wants you to see from afar, rather than feel. There are more Cliff number one albums to come. There will be another album before the year is over that will be so relentlessly, unremittingly terminal it will make this one feel like a party. I leave home, my mother lonelier than ever but desperate for me not to stay there. Two months after this record, a seemingly refreshed Cliff will return, rollerskating and wearing a Walkman. The singer may wonder that he has not quite been able to equate pleasure with commitment, love with need.

But if “When Two Worlds Drift Apart” strikes such an ominous chord, even in 1981, it is because its concerns, about forgetting to feed the fire, dovetail very naturally, and ominously, into the next entry. With all the going of separate ways and talking behind closed doors, it could almost be their story.

Next: the only album released by the biggest pop star of the eighties.

1 comment:

MikeMCSG said...

Another great piece Marcello - this album came into my household when I got married in 97 and I'll dig it out and give it a spin now.

I know what's coming next and have been looking forward to your take on it since I found this site.