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Tim Bowness - Abandoned Dancehall Dreams (Album Review)

Thursday, 19 June 2014 Written by Ben Bland

Photo: Charlotte Kinson

If there’s one major positive from Steven Wilson’s decision to focus on his solo career at the expense of recording a new No-Man album with long-term collaborator Tim Bowness, then it’s that ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ proves just how talented a songwriter Bowness is in his own right.

While the musical chemistry between Bowness and Wilson has been the fulcrum of No-Man’s work, Bowness’s words and voice have lent such emotional gravitas to the duo’s music over the years that it wouldn’t be inappropriate to argue that it is his personality the group best represents. Through all the musical approaches No-Man took, it was his songwriting skills that ultimately remained consistent.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, to learn that ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ is uniformly excellent. Any fears that this would be Bowness embarking on a journey through standardised singer-songwriter MORville are allayed by The Warm-Up Man Forever, which provides a propulsive start to the record and showcases the considerable talents of ex-King Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto and regular No-Man live guitarist Michael Bearpark.

The thunderous climax of the opener contrasts directly with the gentle piano intro of Smiler at 50 which, like many of Bowness’s songs, is a detached, yet painfully emotive, tale of regret. The song’s slow first half gradually builds into a disarmingly harsh final section, with glorious violin joining crushing guitar and drums in a manner that, one suspects deliberately, calls to mind Crimson circa-‘Larks’ Tongues in Aspic’.

Songs of Distant Summers never builds in quite the same way, but its calm submission to ambience is utterly appropriate for the wistfulness of Bowness’s lyrics, which speak of “a blast of pent-up energy and adolescent steam”. It is also the song most reminiscent of the soundscape approach adopted by Bowness and Wilson on 2003’s ‘Together We’re Stranger’, which remains a strong contender for this scribe’s favourite record of all time.

Waterfoot, which follows, is the weakest song on the record, however. An acoustic piece reminiscent of Nick Drake, who was a very clear influence on much of No-Man’s earlier material, Waterfoot is the first time that Wilson’s presence is missed, as we can suspect that he may have had something more to offer to what is a pleasant, but unremarkable, arrangement.

Thankfully this isn’t a problem that rears its head again. I Fought Against the South, the near nine minute penultimate track, demonstrates beyond any remaining doubt that Bowness knows how to write a piece of epic music without his long-time collaborator. The mournful strings of the introduction are no preparation for a piece that drops to almost complete silence on the way to a perfectly judged crescendo near its conclusion. Fuzzy guitar combines with swooping violins in a manner that recalls No-Man’s most musically majestic efforts, such as Angel Gets Caught in the Beauty Trap and Truenorth, and possibly betters all of them.

Beaten by Love feels like a fitting closer. An off-kilter effort driven by Andy Booker’s drums, it never really explodes into life, which is fitting given the record often hints at reaching boiling point but relies on the tension such allusions provide to make full use of its largely textural approach.

Like most of No-Man’s best work, ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’ skirts across diverse musical territory with assurance and panache, something that reflects the strengths and tastes of its creator. Hopefully the wait for the next record won’t be as long as the six year gap between No-Man’s ‘Schoolyard Ghosts’ and this belated, but outstanding, follow-up.

Tim Bowness Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri July 11 2014 - LONDON Borderline
Sat July 12 2014 - ROTHERHAM Wesley Centre

Click here to compare & buy Tim Bowness Tickets at Stereoboard.com.


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