Thursday 20 December 2012

The SHADOWS: String Of Hits

(#223: 1 March 1980, 3 weeks)

Track listing: Riders In The Sky/Parisienne Walkways/Classical Gas/Theme From The Deer Hunter (Cavatina)/Bridge Over Troubled Water/You’re The One That I Want/Heart Of Glass/Don’t Cry For Me Argentina (Recorded live in concert)/Song For Duke/Bright Eyes/Rodrigo’s Guitar Concerto De Aranjuez (theme from 2nd movement)/Baker Street

In which former rock radicals opt for an easy life and churn out Hits 4U mood music for eighties Cannon Cinema auditoriums. Worst thing here is the hit, “Riders In The Sky,” wherein they disastrously push the button that says “modern,” with “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” bass sequencers, synthesised handclaps and whip cracks, and what sounds inexplicably like the “Silver Lady” riff superimposed.

The rest offers little improvement; perfectly good songs stripped of their harmonic richness and rhythmic impetus, such that it sometimes resembles an Anne Boleyn Secondary School prizegiving concert. Even on “You’re The One That I Want,” a song to which the Shadows are umbilically linked (as it was written by John Farrar, ex-of Marvin, Welch and Farrar), they mostly fail to shape up. Undercredited bassist Alan Jones does a very good job of holding it all together, while Dave Lawson’s synthesisers veer between tacky (“Classical Gas”) and quietly ingenious (the subtle “Strawberry Fields” paraphrasing on “Bright Eyes”).

Hank more or less sounds petrified throughout. I note how, on “Cavatina,” he sounds like the floating ghost of George Harrison and how, on “Baker Street,” he resembles Clapton. As “You’re The One That I Want” trudges toward fadeout, however, his frustrations abruptly explode and he breaks into a series of lightning Chet Atkins runs. I also have to applaud the manner in which Marvin and Welch turn “Heart Of Glass” into an unlikely country-rock workout. The sole group original, “Song For Duke,” presumably written in honour of the then recently departed John Wayne, also sees them do better as they are trying much less hard; an attractive “Wonderful Land” update for Spyro Gyra fans (and somebody should sample Lawson’s synth riff here too). Gerry Rafferty thought theirs the best of the many cover versions of “Baker Street”; although he might simply have felt flattered, the stripped-down arrangement does indicate the dusty lo-fi road movie to which Rafferty perhaps always wanted to soundtrack the song.

Otherwise, however, it’s sleepy MoR at its drowsiest; I reflect on how interesting “Aranjuez” might have turned out with Shadows disciple Neil Young as soloist and Jack Nitzsche arranging, but as it is, the Shads miss out the closing Picardy third (and therefore the movement’s entire point). Steve Gray’s string arrangements are, shall we say, unobtrusive (perhaps conscious that Norrie Paramor would die barely a month after the album’s initial release in August 1979). Then again, Marvin reckoned “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” to be the best thing he ever recorded. I don’t know what that says about him or the Shadows at the turn of the eighties, but this record is yet another undernourishing biscuit tin of superficial comfort, and I’m not sure whether it was the record they wanted to make or the record they thought they ought to make.