Thursday, 22 September 2011
YES: Tales From Topographic Oceans
(#137: 5 January 1974, 2 weeks)
Track listing: The Revealing Science Of God (Dance Of The Dawn)/The Remembering (High The Memory)/The Ancient (Giants Under The Sun)/Ritual (Nous Sommes Du Soleil)
It begins, as so many records of this period begin, with electronic howling winds ("Sounds like the Arctic!" remarked Lena). Eventually a lonesome guitar comes stumbling - or tripping? - into the picture, playing some lonesome single notes, like Hank Marvin stranded at the North Pole. This is an agreeable enough, if entirely unoriginal, beginning, but then the rest of the band comes in and I can't tear myself away from the knowledge that Jon Anderson's Accrington voice, possibly slightly speeded up for the record, bears an uncomfortable resemblance to that of George Formby. Then they start chanting...
It had been going well enough up until that point but then a young man in the audience raised his hand. and asked: "Are you going to be doing this with every bloody record?"
Baffled, I replied: "What do you mean?"
"Going through it minute by minute, word by word, note by note, gesture by gesture, until you've wrung all the surprise and beauty out of it? Three years we've been here now, and where have you got us? What have we learned? You're the sort who thinks that Concise is the capital of Nebraska. You're killing these records!"
Calmer, I responded: "It's killing something, but never the music. What you have to grasp is that this is, in great part, a detective story, a mystery; I'm trying to find something, and to do that I have to go through all the evidence that's available to me. Including, I might add, the ancient trick of conjuring up somebody in an imaginary (or is it?) audience - the Unreliable Listener, I could call you - in order to get things a bit, or a lot, further. The peril is the risk of missing something that might be the answer. Take your time; despite what the rest of the world tells you, it's there for the taking."
"But it's still killing something?"
"That in itself is the greater mystery, and unless you stay with me for the ride, you'll never see the solution. But rest assured that one aim is to get rid, or abolish, or force to abdicate, something that has been holding music down, and by extension us down, for far too long - so long that it has almost starved us. Patience, my twenty-one-year-old self, patience!"
With that he resignedly sat down, and drifted temporarily out of this story. But a deeper source of his pain and anxiety made itself apparent to me by re-listening to Tales From Topographic Oceans, namely that rarely - at least, so far - has a number one album been so anxious and meticulous to prove itself, and yet so shambolic in the proving. A double album, one track per side, which followed quickly on a triple live set, and would itself be succeeded later in the year by a three-song concept album (Relayer, which is cryptically alluded to within the misty midst of "The Remembering"). At their peak, they were as prolific and long-winded as any blogger!
Listening to it now, I feel variously boredom, frustration, annoyance and sympathy. Its eighty-one minutes drag by as slowly as the sixty minutes of Down Drury Lane To Memory Lane, yet contain so many minute moments of invention, coherence and foretelling that it is irritating that the group did not seek to expand them further. But finally I sympathise because hitting Yes is like punching a peanut which thinks it is a coconut; these are, or were, honest lads trying their best to (as they doubtless saw and still see it) push music forward.
But side one's "Revealing Science" lays out all the flaws. There's the chant, then a synth sea shanty ("Maid Of Orleans"! Who says that fifteen-year-old Andy McClusky and Paul Humphreys weren't devouring this in their bedrooms?), and then a random grab-bag of styles which could almost be termed postmodern or even prophetic, except that such an ingenious ploy is plainly outside the group's scope; they think they're writing Beethoven's Tenth. Thematically, it's the trusty old where-is-the-world-going meme, with several references to raping the forest, an unusual concentration on the word "moment" which seems to serve as a baton for changing musical gears, and reams of woolly semi-thinking about saving the world. They try their hand at folk-rock, space rock, even some pale fusion (but they most certainly are not Weather Report; see 1974's Mysterious Traveller by the latter for stark confirmation) and some old school sixties beat echoes; inevitably there are Peppery moments but ELP and especially the Moody Blues, with that damned mellotron, are recalled far more speedily. It cranks up for a rockout, then Rick Wakeman takes it down again with some cocktail Moog, and unlike the long Abbey Road medley, with which it shares a certain boue ("What happened to this song we once knew so well?"), there is no real sense of continuity or true cohesion.
The opening of "The Remembering" meanders forever - Chris Squire's bass is by far the most interesting thing going on here, and little wonder that the twenty-something Trevor Horn, then compelled to play "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" every night in a cabaret band, wanted to be him (and indeed sound like Anderson) - before settling again for mish-mash; there is a recurring synth leitmotif, meant to represent the topographic oceans but seemingly dropped into the piece at random. Again there is the ying and yang of loud bit followed by quiet bit, with essays in medieval lutism and touchy prog workouts, concluding in layered choirs and missed profundity. Lyrically it wanders around the plains of non-specific yeasaying, including a passing reference to Anderson's school days ("School gates remind us of our class"). But again there are touches of things greater; early in the lengthy instrumental introduction, Howe does something on his guitar, or touches the right pedal, which appears to invent the Cocteau Twins. Elsewhere there are echoes of the Beach Boys - "Sail On Sailor" as it might have been in abler hands - and more semi-random scrabblings building the path to Architecture And Morality. But all of these last but a few seconds apiece before being swept away in the next guitar solo, or Moog flourish. The album is half done, and that is not merely a statement about its duration.
"The Ancient" gives the group the chance for the obligatory percussive workout (I keep using the word "workout" in relation to this record, but it really does raise the same feelings as a listless day in the office). Despite Squire's valiant efforts to marry Jack Bruce with Stanley Clarke, this isn't exactly On The Corner in terms of world fusion as meltdown. In his sleevenote, Anderson talks about the piece being influenced by "lost civilisations, Indian, Chinese, Central American, Atlantean." Atlantean? Now hold on a minute; just because you call a track on your first solo album "Moon Ra" doesn't mean you are fit to wipe Sonny Blount's brow (especially if, so unlike Sun Ra, you are entirely lacking in humour), particularly in one of the many moments on this track when the band audibly feel as though they want to burst into "Atlantis" by the Shadows. We eventually encounter a beached whale of a rhythm track - puffing, bloated, oleaginous - over which Steve Howe does his best to get Robert Fripp chatting with Mike Oldfield (there is more than a fair scent of Tubular Bells throughout the record as a whole). And then there are more of these infuriating moments; two blink-and-miss-them upward harp-like flourishes that actually invent ZTT, a quietly probing guitar/echoplex/bass/drums interlude which foretells Bill Frisell's Power Tools a decade and a half later, even some Eno-with-a-Royal-College-of-Music-diploma Moog hisses from Wakeman. But then it's medieval time again, followed by a century-long Paco Pena tribute from Howe on his trusty acoustic. And then it rocks up again, and then it dies down. You could set your electricity meter by it.
"Ritual" is by far the best-structured of the four tracks, although everything is relative, since it begins with what could pass for a soundtrack to a BBC East Anglia documentary about sailing, presented by Cliff Michelmore, before moving into a melodic variant on "Gasoline Alley" for its main motif. Squire does a showoff bass solo. Then some more quiet. Then a dry run for the Police with some underlying evidence of 1964 Beatles still present (Squire's very McCartney-ish bass under the "at all" section). Then some Pet Sounds organ. Then a 5/4 rockout within which you can sense the band's collective urge just to say fuck it and move into "Louie Louie" (and it was largely Anderson and Howe's project; Wakeman spent most of his time in the studio hanging out with Black Sabbath next door, who were busy recording Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, before heading to the pub to play darts with Ozzy. Now Howe thinks he's Carlos Santana, but Caravanserai this is not (there's no joy). The music stops abruptly. Then a "Workshop" hammer n' tools percussive marathon, which I'm sure was great fun to play - actually it stops halfway between "Workshop" and "Antmusic." Then Wakeman revives his old "Space Oddity" tropes. Did I hear some scratching there? No, it's Rick trying to be Eno again. The mood now is one of an Anne Boleyn Secondary attempt at "Interstellar Overdrive" (you can smell the wood polish, see the teachers sitting with patient faces frozen in rictus smiles; Lena thought it was more like incidental music for The Six Million Dollar Man). Then we move back to unaccompanied, electric Howe. Anderson tries out for Jon and Vangelis - if I've studiously avoided analysing his lyrics here, it really is because I don't feel anything can be gleaned or learned from them; there are all the non-committal Moody Blues greetings card homilies about opening your eyes to see the sun, etc., some cod French, a confusing bit of business about whether he's going to call us or not, and finally lyrics which must have been threaded threefold through Babelfish (if only Babelfish had existed at the time, but really: "Look me my love sentences move dancing away"? "Hold me, around, lasting our"?), although the old calling still seeps through: "Hold me, my love, hold me," and, of course, "Flying home/Going home" (Anderson's multitracked harmonies do, admittedly, conjure up the Byrds). There is some liquidy piano, then a Tubular Bells-style build-up which wimps out at the last second and ends quietly, unresolved and unmoving.
So who bought this, apart from students and five-leaves-left stoners? Was it a quiet fortnight, or was its number one status the result of well-meaning Christmas gifts to teenage children? I can easily believe that the supposed epic nature of Oceans would look and sound big enough to beguile listeners just starting out, yet to learn about things like Future Days and Rock Bottom. Except that Yes had already, and repeatedly, proved that, when disciplining themselves, they were capable of superb songs: "Yours Is No Disgrace," "Roundabout" and "I've Seen All Good People" being only the three most obvious examples. Wakeman for one had had enough (but in truth he is hardly on there) and quit Yes after the record. But that distant pyramid, the lunar relics, the navy-blue sky - it was all an escape from grey, disappointing Britain. I still cannot work out what, if anything, the musicians on this record were striving to achieve, but after enduring its length we put on Aretha's Amazing Grace and it struck us that the title track achieved everything (and more) that Yes had been straining so hard to match; the effortless and natural move from one style to another, the unquenchable emotional openness, the happiness and laughter which comes from connecting with the world, even when it seems at its worst. So you see, the search, the ambition - both need to continue if a happy resolution, and perhaps even an ending, is to be reached.
Posted by Marcello Carlin at 18:11
Thursday, 15 September 2011
Elton JOHN: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
(#136: 22 December 1973, 2 weeks)
Track listing: Funeral For A Friend (Love Lies Bleeding)/Candle In The Wind/Bennie And The Jets/Goodbye Yellow Brick Road/This Song Has No Title/Grey Seal/Jamaica Jerk-Off/I've Seen That Movie Too/Sweet Painted Lady/The Ballad Of Danny Bailey (1909-34)/Dirty Little Girl/All The Girls Love Alice/Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'N Roll)/Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting/Roy Rogers/Social Disease/Harmony
A double album wasn't really what he wanted, but he did it anyway in the hope that it might count as both of the two albums he was contractually obliged to supply to DJM each year. No dice, said Dick James, we need another one; the musician had been hoping for a rest, but his situation - that of becoming the most recognised and famous pop musician on the planet - was no longer allowing for such luxuries. On the other hand, you could view GYBR as a spilling repository of everything that Elton John knew in 1973, all that he was absorbing; work on the record began in Jamaica (following the Stones' trail) but heavy manners in Kingston (the Foreman/Frazier fight happened while he was there) compelled a return to France. Thence (via Taupin) came recollections and reconstructions of things and people he had known in his life, the old and new music coming at him like an unending stream of snowballs. Remember that the artist capable of sensitive character studies involving Marilyn Monroe and Roy Rogers also, at some point in 1973, pranced around in a 190-pound gorilla suit onstage with Iggy and the Stooges in Atlanta. Interviews of the period do not picture a particularly happy or satisfied Elton, but then the end of 1973 was not a particularly happy or satisfying time; a ruin of Nixon, oil shortages, strikes, power cuts, curtailed working weeks - a time when one wondered whether Britain wasn't really happier with ration books, that self-denial was a national pastime as well as this nation's fatal flaw. The title track of GYBE alone fit perfectly into such imperfection with its impossible yearning; if you can't imagine multimillionaire Elton forsaking penthouse for plough (and horny-backed toads in Britain?) then remember that everyone has their own version of the blues, and do not forget the Floydian poignancy of those long guitar arcs and anti-rainbow vocal harmonies. "When are you going to come down? When are you going to land?" - sometimes it seemed that everything in 1973 was a homage to Syd (and yet it was this song, of all songs, which moved the young Axl Rose to think about considering a career as a singer).
GYBE does a good job of summarising 1973's main trends; the movietoned nostalgia of David Cassidy, the glam of Bowie, the marooned mystery of Roxy, the general "where do we go from here"ness of That'll Be The Day, the politely stuck-out tongue of Alice Cooper, the inescapable shadow of the Moon. But while the record reminds us that John and Taupin remained, at least at this stage, petit maitres rather than large-scale conceptualists, the long stadium synth rock of its eleven-minute opener suggests that a grander notion had initially lodged in their minds. Done in collaboration with David Hentschel, "Funeral For A Friend" begins where Quadrophenia might have left off, complete with portentous wind howls, tolling bells and morose lead melody. The endless piano crescendos and intrusions of tympani and castanets, however, suggest a path forward, even if to (in equal parts) Bat Out Of Hell (Davey Johnstone went on to work in Meatloaf's backing band) and War Of The Worlds. Into this picture - perfect for building up anticipation for The Star's arrival on stage - John enters, whereupon the song immediately switches into a tough, fast rocker, Dee Murray and Johnstone in particularly stern form. His girl has left him, and the song careers somewhere between Sinatra's "Cottage For Sale" and "Wichita Lineman" ("You're a bluebird on a telegraph line"), running straight through "Ziggy Stardust" ("But my guitar couldn't hold you/So I split the band").
The sequence sets the tone for a long, varied and entertaining journey - but the latter is not necessarily what we get. The album's first third is more or less faultless; "Candle In The Wind" as a third-hand threnody to a fussy departed spirit works better, I think, as a candlelit bedsit meditation on youth and incipient sexuality than as an elegy of national lament; I was in Westminster Abbey, in a professional capacity, when he performed the rewrite a lifetime later, and although the emotion dormant in him was unquestionable and evident, the square-pegging felt awkward, like an old family snapshot blown up to cover the walls of a skyscraper. Here the intimacy and self-doubt are not sacrificed or exercised beyond their capacity. "Bennie And The Jets," an unexpected number one single in the USA ("We decided to put it out because it was the Number One black record in Detroit"), is the record's most defiantly futuristic and aggressive moment (but note the unusual aggression of drums, bass and piano throughout "Candle"); drawing on and expanding the Bowie/Ziggy template, the song is simultaneously all-inclusive and isolating - what are these curiously disconnected handclaps and whoops on what palpably isn't a live recording (as it turned out, the main handclap loop was sampled from Hendrix's 1970 Isle of Wight concert, with other effects from various recorded Elton gigs)? Moreover, those calls of "We'll kill the fatted calf tonight" and "Let us take ourselves along/Where we fight our parents out in the streets/To find who's right and who's wrong") go further down the path of insurrection than John or Taupin ever ventured, before or afterwards; it's a British cousin to/anticipator of Rundgren's "Just One Victory" (1973 also being the year of A Wizard/A True Star, that unparalleled unravelling and reconstructing of pop history); there is even the hint that this is really what John and Taupin wanted to do all along, kick down and get dirty. Note the odd, stinging outbursts of organ at song's end, the residual sense of futurism, and that Prince was, in 1973, fifteen. After the diversion of "This Song Has No Titles," all Mellotron melancholy with Beach Boy-ish backing vocals, "Grey Seal" is a terrific Procol Harum word-puzzle propeller with its artful, perspective-altering bridge between verse and chorus, although we still appear to be at the movies ("On the big screen they showed us a sun/But not as bright in life as the real one").
If the album had remained at this level and gone straight to "Your Sister Can't Twist," we would be looking at a pretty unassailable classic. Alas, the six songs which comprise the record's centre bring with them what I can only describe as a "Willem Dafoe moment," i.e. that point in a perfectly good film - Wild At Heart or The English Patient, say - when Dafoe arrives as a supporting character and immediately turns the movie into a glutinous mess. Worse, these songs expose John and especially Taupin's limitations. There is no need to go into any of them in detail, except to say in passing that "Jamaica Jerk-Off" was a bad idea even at the time, that "I've Seen That Movie" is an overblown overexposure of the movie motif complete with weepy guitar solo, would-be epic strings and "passionate" vocalising, notable only for being a partial musical precursor of "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word," that the utterly stupid songs about prostitution and lesbianism rank among the worst and most misguided to have so far occurred in this tale (complete with unwarranted algae of pseudo-moral outrage), that I am not encouraged to find out anything more about Danny Bailey, and that Elton's vocals become angrier and less coherent with the lesser material with which he has to work. No vigilant record company boss would have spared the secateurs.
To prove what a great single album this would have been, John and Taupin rally round in the final third with noticeable regaining of quality; "Your Sister Can't Twist" is a wonderfully pseudo-dumb rocker, John's piano sounding particularly joyous, with its exhortations to "Throw away them records 'cause the blues is dead" and the Farfisa organ placing the song (essentially an "At The Hop" derivative) somewhere between Johnny and the Hurricanes, American Gladiators and Blondie. "Saturday Night," meanwhile, is Elton's most convincing straight rocker and comfortably outrocks anything on Goats Head Soup; note how the prog-rock organ is swiftly wiped out by Jerry Lee piano dips with the advent of every chorus, and Johnstone's rollercoaster guitar riff sliding perfectly into the shouty fadeout. "Social Disease" works where the albun's midriff doesn't, largely because of its effortless humour, its claps and whoops, and John's hysterical vocal, landing between Randy Newman and a particularly frisky Leo Sayer ("Dis-e-EEEEEE-eeeese!"). The closing "Harmony" unexpectedly finds John in the same place as Bryan Ferry at the end of Stranded; out there on the sea, blissfully landlocked, and not without its winks of escape ("In any case I set my own pace/By stealing the show - say hello, hello").
But "Roy Rogers" cuts the deepest, and proves that John and Taupin's talents lay in the immaculate miniature portrait rather than the sweeping gesture; in its contemporary reflections it is the mirror song to "Candle" and as an end-of-every-big-thing piece it ranks with Richard Thompson's contemporaneous "End Of The Rainbow." Here Taupin gets it absolutely right; the nine-to-five guy who knows that life has passed him by, who's too tired or insensate or trapped to change anything, who's wondering what all that promise of the sixties was for, whose only connection to life is watching the old cowboy films on TV. Weep with Johnstone's steel guitar as it drops off in agony after John sings the line "While the wife and the kids are in bed" - the hopeless Dividend Stamp greyness of late 1973 Britain is perfectly captured; this, let us not forget, is the world from which BS Johnson had just absented himself. Nothing for it but to bury oneself, in hiding from commitment, in the memories of when he wasn't required to be responsible or careful. But note the "let's shoot a hole in the moon" warning, and the "hit the hilltop" near the end, both of which lead to the nuclear siren drone which actually ends the song. The past is one thing, but the future has to live, too. In the meantime, there was another album to be recorded, another responsibility to be fulfilled. Wasn't he already nostalgic for a time when he didn't have to do so much work, when the yellow brick road was safely distant from him, up in that beckoning light?
Posted by Marcello Carlin at 11:48
Thursday, 1 September 2011
David CASSIDY: Dreams Are Nuthin' More Than Wishes...
(#135: 15 December 1973, 1 week)
Track listing: Opening Music/Daydream/Sing Me/Bali Hai/Mae/Fever/Summer Days/The Puppy Song/Daydreamer/Some Old Woman/Can't Go Home Again/Preyin' On My Mind/Hold On Me
"I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand"
(Edgar Allan Poe, "Dream Within A Dream")
"If you try you will find me
Where the sky meets the sea"
(Rodgers and Hammerstein, "Bali-Hai")
"Until we meet again kiddies it's all over now baby blue..."
(David Cassidy, from his sleevenote to Dreams Are Nuthin' More Than Wishes...)
Whatever did happen to Billy Bigelow Jnr. anyway? Well, he grew up like no one anticipated, even though it was his mother - that cautiously innocent voice which rings down from entries #2 and #4 (have we really only travelled seventeen years, or no distance at all?) - who led him into becoming famous. Famous, that is, to a point, one almost beyond bearability. By the end of 1973 The Partridge Family had been cancelled and the boy - if we can speak of this twenty-three-year-old as such - had already become half forgotten in his own home. He remarked that he felt as though he had been marketed like a packet of cornflakes. In Britain, however, he had never been more famous, and was never to be more famous; late 1973 caught him at both the peak and the end of his popularity, a situation which necessitated his being smuggled into studios in laundry baskets to do television, a live following which would end in fatality in only a few months. He wasn't, in short, happy, and the surface happiness of this record does little to conceal the abyss of despair lying beneath.
The record already seemed like a lost relic in its own time; there on the cover is David and his Dalmatian, on the rear David's head rising wetly out of the water as though already auditioning for the cover of Fourth Drawer Down, in the middle David's track-by-track sleevenote, in his own junior doctor's handwriting, complete with drawings. With the record also came a separate print, of Bruno Piglhein's 1925 painting Pals, a rather forlorn watercolour featuring a naked girl and a black Labrador, sitting side by side by a river with their backs to us. The only reason this doesn't qualify for a hauntology label is that it's difficult to see what messages the record is sending us two generations later, other than those to do with the singer's state of mind.
It is not an easy record, either, and one can only marvel at the loyalty of the fans which surely must have sent it to number one. Loosely structured as a song cycle (although it is neither Cassidy's Pepper nor his What's Going On?), the record begins with a snippet of the closing track, "Hold On Me," in which the singer makes the following observation:
"Although life is a serious game,
Was it I who played wrong?
Do I belong to the small few
Who get lost in the race
Who still seem to pretend
When their daydream ends?"
And before he can reflect any further, the record immediately sways into John Sebastian's "Daydream," the beginning of his time. Dominated by Michael Omartian's tack piano (and the musicians appearing throughout Dreams are the best Cassidy could buy; Larry Knetchel, James Burton, John Guerin, Kim Carnes, Michael McDonald, Victor Feldman and very many more besides. The music is downhome luxurious), Cassidy speaks (in his sleevenote) of first hearing the song in 1966, stuck on the Long Island Expressway in 105-degree heat - a situation more in keeping with the Lovin' Spoonful's follow-up, the pre-apocalyptic "Summer In The City"). He gets into a sort of swing but despite his deprecations (near the end he speaks "Makes. Me. Feel. So. Good") he is not quite in the realm of happy.
In "Sing Me" he goes even further back, citing Kitty Kallen's "Little Things Mean A Lot," musing about his mother "posin' like Marilyn Monroe" (thus Dreams becomes the first of two consecutive anguished number one albums to mention Monroe), his father holding him up at the beach, "Life was a joy, I never got old," followed by the crushing self-revelation that he is fated to get old, particularly when he turns four and a new baby brother arrives home (whereupon he promptly flees on his bicycle). Backing singers plead, "Take me away." Back to a life without responsibilities, without fear, without retrograde selective nostalgia.
And then it is back to "Bali-Hai" and he sounds as though he is being born; he materialises through the ocean wave effects and Feldman's ghostly vibraphone, tracing himself back to the source of his pain, that special island that once promised everything. It is an exceptional reading, and if it sounds as though we are nearing Surf's Up or even Pacific Ocean Blue territory, you wouldn't be far wrong. He snaps out of his reverie, however, as reeling bass and congas rope him into "Mae," another song about mother fixation. Here Cassidy really shows his versatility - normally his voice is breathy, microphone-close, accentuating the sibilants, not that far from, of all singers, Cliff Richard - and his rumbling "warm and tender," his repeated self-hypnotising mantras of "I need you, Mae" (waves, swimming, back to the womb, it's all here; there is even a Van-esque abrupt holler of "ALL RIGHT!" as emotional breaktime) leading into Michael Jackson-predicting mutters and gasps ("HI need! HIII need!!") which in turn wander into barking abstraction.
The improvised take on "Fever" is also extraordinary; with its Superfly bass/piano unisons, its floating vibes/percussion echoes, its use of echoes and spaces, Cassidy's own unmoored vocal ("HIIIIII LIIIIIIGHT up!" he gasps at one point) above melodramatic drums and piano, it plays like a hook-up between Isaac Hayes and George Crumb. Had it been a long-lost track by, say, Terry Callier, Norman Jay would have been on its case decades ago. A superb climax to side one, only slightly lowered by the re-reading of the old Partridge tune "Summer Days"; despite this apparently being closer to Cassidy's original vision of the song, it doesn't make the song itself anything more than mediocre (as the lumbering, mistimed key change about a third of the way in highlights).
Then, however, it's side two, and the hits: Nilsson's "The Puppy Song" is treated generously, with spring coil percussion, vaudeville washboard, the tack piano again, and hopeful (though alas uncredited) clarinet, but none of this hides the song's rather starkly alienated nature; after all, he has neither a puppy nor (to extend the dog metaphor westward, as the song does) friends, and he is merely wishing for one so that "we can stay away from crowds" and from "signs that said NO FRIENDS ALLOWED." Likewise, "Daydreamer" ruffles into view atop Michael McDonald's warm Fender Rhodes grill, and one can clearly see how the ten-year-old George Michael would have, so to speak, got it, but the unwanted oneness is still non-detachable from the singer, and just when you think the song is all over, there comes the most pregnant of pauses, followed by: "I'm...just...a..." and that "a" sounds as though he is pulling down the rest of the world with him, closing ocarina solo or no. He recovers some ground, however, on Shel Silverstein's characteristically goofy "Some Old Woman" with his soul brother parody vocal ("It's a shame...HM!...it's a PITY!," his comedy growling of "wicked and WILD!," his perfectly-timed throat-clearing). He ends up roaring "LIES!" and nowhere else on the record does he sound as though he is having such an unalloyed good time.
But then comes the closing trilogy, and Cassidy's neck bends towards tragedy. Not that you would necessarily know that from the good-time ambience of the playing - the then-unknown Kim Carnes is rightly applauded by Cassidy for her tennis-match piano on "Preyin' On My Mind" - or the determinedly lighthearted nature of the sleevenote, but "Can't Go Home Again" spells it out as dismally as The Last Picture Show; he's back, and doesn't really know why, his mama calling his name, and his mind drifts into imperfect memory (the song, composed by Cassidy with Carnes and Dave Ellingson, was originally planned as an unending list of memories, sightings and insights relating to "this boy's lost track"); the old dreams, the absences (Tom who ran the picture show is long gone), the fact that "a double-deck cone don't cost a dime no more," maybe the record's saddest reflection, the final encounter with a crying street bum (whom he remembers from boyhood) who could easily be himself - turn, turn, back into the car, back to the station, if you can, there's nothing for anyone here, and Cassidy wishes above all else that he could simply be "anyone" before the music fades into a Bob James groove of comfort. "Preyin'" continues the theme with its musings about "the lonely old man passing through your town" although, as mentioned, Carnes' piano and backing vocals do their damnedest to punch some life back into the boy.
Finally, however, there proves to be no exit, except the last one; "Hold On Me" finishes the record as it began, and its sentiments are the record's darkest with its "set myself free" and Cassidy's most emotional vocal performance - "Circle closing in on me 'til I can't seem to see," "We're alone and we're broken...now don't we need loving?" (is this still, despite everything, 1969?) - until the original refrain returns and is turned into a reluctant singalong. "Do I belong to that small few that got lost in the race..."? Fittingly, the record itself became an absence; although its only slightly less troubled predecessor Rock Me Baby is still readily available, Dreams has not survived, available only (to mirror the beginning of 1973) as an expensive and hard-to-find Japanese CD. It feels like a dream from which Cassidy is unable to escape; waking up, he finds that he is still dreaming, and that dream is stardom, nothing like he expected. But can't those sands of seconds be turned into gold? How good could his grip be - or does he gladly sink into responsibility-abolishing oblivion? Not quite, for he has survived and endured; nevertheless, this record reminds us of the pain waiting for everyone when the carousel opts to stop, or is stopped.
"Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream."
(Poe, op. cit.)
Posted by Marcello Carlin at 18:49
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