AL STEWART: LIVE - INDIAN SUMMER (1981)
1) Here In Angola; 2) Indian Summer; 3) Pandora; 4) Delia's Gone; 5) Princess Olivia; 6) Running Man; 7) Time Passages; 8) Merlin's Time; 9) If It Doesn't Come Naturally, Leave It; 10) Roads To Moscow; 11) Nostradamus/World Goes To Riyadh; 12) Soho (Needless To Say); 13) On The Border; 14) Valentina Way; 15) Clarence Frogman Henry; 16) Year Of The Cat.
The record is structured the same way as Genesis' Three Sides Live, raising the hens-and-eggs issue of whether there were too few new studio tracks, calling for live filler material, or whether it was the shows that were too short, calling out for some studio padding. Regardless, it all works fine. Consummate professionalism.
Al's live show, at this point, tended to faithfully concentrate on songs that his MOR-raised audience knew and loved: reaching moderately into the days gone by, but firmly stopping at the border of Past, Present & Future, beyond which there be dragons of his disavowed childhood experience. With the exception of a new tune, wittily poking fun at the newly-increased prestige of the Arab countries ('World Goes To Riyadh'; no idea how it got stuck together in a medley with 'Nostradamus', though), and a brief spoken anecdote about an ill-fated meeting of the double of Clarence "Frogman" Henry with the double of Audrey Hepburn (sic!), the songs are performed as faithfully as possible. If it weren't for the addition of female background vocals on 'Time Passages' (hardly an exciting touch), I could have easily mistaken this for the studio original with overdubbed applause; and much the same goes for every other number.
Ergo, it is nice to know all of these tricky Alan Parsons arrangements can be reproduced on stage, and to ascertain that Stewart's fine, bright voice steadily holds up all the right notes upon first take, and to hear the receptive audience taking in and applauding all the history-as-art lecturing of 'Roads To Moscow', but other than that, the live show primarily functions as a best-of package. Which is not a bad deal, actually, given that you also get five new studio tracks that, as far as I'm concerned, beat the crap (or, more politely, the carotene) out of 24 Carrots.
The big difference is that most of them are unexpectedly light and happy, purging out the murky melancholia of the previous albums; normally, there is nothing wrong with murky melancholia, of course, but the more we got of it, the more it got the Parsons treatment, with all of the feelings simulated with minor chords played on routine synths, and there was no way to lift this depressing smog of generic arrangements except by making the music a little happier.
'Here In Angola' is one of the most upbeat songs in the man's repertoire (and the only song in existence to rhyme 'Angola' with not just 'Cola', but also 'Francis Ford Coppola') — simpler than a prokaryote, but also much catchier (ever tried to catch a prokaryote?), and, as the lyrics would suggest, perhaps taking a jab at Dylan and his «born again» debacle? 'Indian Summer' and 'Delia's Gone' are also simple, but poignant, tales that are melancholic, but not murky — and 'Delia's Gone' tries to go for a little Jethro Tullian style, with a flash of Celtic influence bursting through the soft-rock arrangement, later propped up with a flute melody saying hello to Ian. 'Princess Olivia' adds non-irritating cuteness to simplicity; although I have no idea who 'Olivia' is (his wife? daughter? a historical character? no one in particular?), there's another fun rhyme in there ("I love Princess Olivia/Can't speak, I slip into trivia") and even the silly synthesizer reproduction of 'Ode to Joy' at the beginning cannot spoil the positive impression. The only weak point is 'Pandora', which does bring over some of the shades of gray from 24 Carrots, reminding us that the man is still firmly in the clutches of corporate production values. But it's not a bad song, either.
If you need any additional reasons to own this album, get it just for the front cover photo — the wide lapels on the suit are corny, but it's the last chance one has to spot a young-looking, long-haired Al Stewart, still looking like Eric Idle's concealed twin and loving it. One reason we old fogeys and retro-fans might dislike the Eighties is, perhaps, purely age-related, as they stole the facial freshness of most, if not all, our idols. Then again, it has been all but scientifically proven that just one listen to a mid-Eighties Phil Collins record takes away six months of life; how many months, then, must producing such a record take away? Thumbs up, before it's not too late.