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Friday, November 4, 2011

Arthur Russell: Another Thought


1) Another Thought; 2) A Little Lost; 3) Home Away From Home; 4) Lucky Cloud; 5) This Is How We Walk On The Moon; 6) Hollow Tree; 7) See Through Love; 8) Keeping Up; 9) In The Light Of The Miracle; 10) Lucky Cloud (Return); 11) Just A Blip; 12) Me For Real; 13) Losing My Taste For The Night Life; 14) My Tiger, My Timing; 15) A Sudden Chill.

For his legacy to live on, Arthur Russell had to die. This took place on April 4, 1992, four months after Freddie Mercury and for the exact same reason (although, hopefully, because of different partners). Since the man had allegedly left several thousand tapes worth of unfinished recordings behind him, it was only a matter of time, and personal devotion, before someone would eventual­ly get to them and reveal the hidden-iceberg part of the Tortured Genius™ to the public.

The first of many posthumous releases, Another Thought is basically World Of Echo without the echo (or, at least, with much less echo), which is why it will probably work best as an intro­duction to the minimalist, introspective side of Russell. Only a few of the tracks feature fuller ar­rangements, with dance beats and additional backing vocals; for the most part, it's just Arthur, his cello, and sometimes a little acoustic guitar or bass to add spice.

Like World Of Echo, this one is never ever about hooks. Some of the vocal lines might have staying power, but only unintentionally so. If there is a true spiritual predecessor to this kind of music, it is Tim Buckley circa Starsailor: it's all about complex, not-easy-to-memorize vocaliza­tion patterns woven around equally complex chords that mix pop, jazz, and modern classical sequences in the most unpredictable manner.

Although the resulting atmosphere seems to have mystery, soul, and emotion a-plenty, this is still a very tightly controlled set of tracks — certainly not your average «mad man» record. The sonic pattern of a single track may change several times over a couple of minutes, with the cello bowed, plucked, scraped, pulled, moving from dissonance to perfect harmony and back, but this is not im­provisation, these are all attempts at introducing a new type of singer-songwriter: the progres­sive experimentalist. Does it work?

For me, it does not. The greatest asset that my tastes can discern is Russell's singing voice: smooth, intelligent, not exactly «powerful» or «technically developed», but seductive in its in­no­cence and friendliness, along the same lines as Ray Davies. And, since the cello backings are not intentionally «ugly», but relatively well-ordered, this gives a certain unique type of pleasant, gen­t­ly rocking, «cloudy» sound that would be quite tolerable as background music for... well, for a trendy installation or happening, rather than your average evening.

But I do not see how this kind of sound could ever go beyond «interesting». Despite all the diver­sity, it is still too monotonous and way too self-concentrated. (Excuses that these are just «unfi­nished demos» do not really work — this album is better than World Of Echo, officially sancti­oned by Russell for release during his lifetime). Russell's cello speaks to me with a voice that I cannot understand or appreciate, and pretty much cancels out the positive effects of his voice. And as for the rhythm-based numbers, they are hardly among his best: 'My Tiger, My Timing' has too much annoying tennis-ball-style percussion and a mind-numbingly repetitive chorus, and 'In The Light Of The Miracle' features inventive vocal harmony overlays, but little else.

I rate this whole approach as a «failed experiment». Were this guy a real loonie, like Syd Barrett, he would have a greater appeal. Were he a master player — a pop equivalent of a Rostropovich or something — he would have an even greater appeal. But I could never praise an artist to high heaven just for the sake of his «trying to be different». Aren't we all, for Chrissake? This is boring experimental cello music with good vocals. The only «song» I really liked was 'Keeping Up', with an unknown female vocalist joining Russell to create a psychedelic, but optimistic duet that alleviates the boredom for about six minutes. The rest is not for me — if I want «sensitive» and «fragile», I'll stick with my Tim Buckley, Skip Spence, and Nick Drake. As for the final judge­ment, let's put it this way: Another Thought is way too smart a thought to be tagged as «stinky pseudo-intellectual crap», but I do not see myself getting into a fist fight with anyone else who'd like to do the ho­nors.

Check "Another Thought" (CD) on Amazon

1 comment:

  1. I rate this average in Russell's discography, however, this should be responsible for at least influencing current solo dubstepper's like James Blake. Perhaps Mr. Blake (whose own albums I honestly don't see the point of) forgot that Mr. Russell's best songs move your body and your mind.