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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Al Stewart: Orange


1) You Don't Even Know Me; 2) Amsterdam; 3) Songs Out Of Clay; 4) The News From Spain; 5) I Don't Believe You; 6) Once An Orange, Always An Orange; 7) I'm Falling; 8) Night Of The 4th Of May.

Every generalization you can make for Orange holds equally well for Zero She Flies, so let us keep this short. Key changes in personnel include a traveling Rick Wakeman — the maestro plays his perfect piano throughout, usually to good effect, as on 'The News From Spain', whose last few minutes he transforms into progressive grandiosity — and a here-to-stay Tim Renwick, whose solid, if not exactly individualistic, guitar style would go on to become a humble trade­mark of the Al Stewart style.

As usual, all of the songs are at least good, and some are downright great (the album is sometimes written off as «transitional», more proof that transitions are generally cooler than settled formu­lae). With all of the musical styles spelt out so clearly and all of the lyrical motives so thinly vei­led, it is tempting to label them as tightly connected pairs of a coherent array. Thus, 'You Don't Even Know Me' = «cheerful bouncy Brit-pop» + «memories of a turmoiled love affair»; 'Amster­dam' = «light rootsy boogie à la Flying Burrito Bros.» + «memories of (guess what) Amsterdam»; 'Songs Out Of Clay' = «stern folk ballad» + «lots of metaphors about searching for the meaning of life»; 'I'm Falling' = «intelligent multi-layered folk-rock anthem à la Nick Drake» + «desperate yearning for romance from someone who clearly misses it quite a bit», etc.

Throw in an obligato­ry instrumental that wobbles somewhere in between jig and menuet ('Once An Orange...') and a convincing, if not wholly necessary, Dylan cover ('I Don't Believe You', whose lyrics fit in per­fectly with the rest of the album, showing just how much of an influence Bob really was), and the picture of yet another successful, but not breathtaking, record is comp­lete. With the sprawling 'News From Spain' and 'Night Of The 4th Of May', both of them conti­nuing Stewart's series of semi-confessional, semi-show-off-like songs, he may have hoped for a stronger effect, but neither had hit potential, nor can they really qualify as stunning art-rock crea­tions of the era — in order to become anything like that, Stewart would have to learn to let go of his intelligent humility and add more flash, much more than letting Wakeman roam freely over the keyboards in the coda to 'News From Spain' (as wondrous as that roaming is — one of the most inspiring instrumental moments in Al's entire catalog).

Not that the lack of flash has any importance; by 1972, it was fairly clear that Al would be for­ever content with playing it low-key, his audience mainly confined to that particular sector of col­lege-goers who like their art «clever» and «humble», but get easily bored with lonely acoustic guitars or ten-minute saxophone solos — a pretty small sector indeed, but for those kinds of peo­ple, Orange should be as close to perfection as it can possibly get. Like everything else, it has aged pretty well, and somehow Al has this talent of befriending the listener over and over again with each new record; thumbs up, no doubts about it.

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