Drew McAdam is a freelance music journalist in Scotland. This review should appear in a major Edinburgh newspaper soon.
Have you ever asked yourself what it is that makes a really good album? What we’re talking about is not the formulaic tracks that hold your attention for less time than it takes to download and ends up as an annoying ring tone. What I’m talking about is an outstanding album.
And how would you recognise it?
An album of note should certainly be more than just a collection of good tunes and snappy lyrics. Rather, it has to start off good and then get progressively better with each listening. An album that, even when it’s not on the stereo, is playing in your head. An album that draws you into it and wraps itself around you like a duvet. An album that you actually get excited about playing to your friends, and one where you couldn’t miss off a single track without diluting the whole.
Well, if all that is what makes “a really good album”, then “Stranger Comes to Town” is right up there with the rest of them – and the best of them. Make no mistake; this is a truly outstanding work.
When reviewing a new album the usual practice is to highlight a couple of the best tracks. But that’s simply not possible with this album because every track is a carefully crafted poem that’ set to an intricate melody so that the whole thing caresses you on an emotional level. The numbers are then set in exactly the right sequence so that it constructs a tapestry that is simple in its complexity and beautiful in its raw sensitivity. The whole picture is as exquisite as each of the tiny threads that make it.
It is an astonishing work. One that Steve Harley fans probably always suspected he was capable of producing. And, boy, he’s more than surpassed their expectations. Honestly? If this album doesn’t end up in your top ten list of favourite albums of all time, I’ll eat my own socks.
But is he going to be able to translate the numbers into a live performance experience? I hope so; I really, really hope so. Having said that, his track record is pretty much flawless. I’ve attended and reviewed a number of Steve Harley’s gigs for several newspapers in the past, and it is always a remarkable experience – the man knows how to give the audience what they want. So, yes, I’m pretty sure he can pull it off.
Actually, I’m certain he can – but it will be fun finding out!
Of course, Harley could not have produced this work all on his own; there’s the band to consider. Well, from the deceptively straightforward opening track “Faith and Virtue” to the soaring closing tracks of “Before They Crash the Universe” and the truly spectacular “2,000 Years From Now” the musicians work hard to keep everything tighter than a rusted wing nut. Lincoln Anderson on Bass, Stuart Elliott on drums, Robbie Gladwell on a variety of guitars, James Lascelles on anything that has black and white keys, and of course the wonderfully talented Barry Wickens on – well – just about everything else. They all bring their experience and expertise to the table, and work their magic to produce a sound that has breadth, width and depth.
Oh, yes, and let’s not forget the choir!
The combined talent and expertise is used to good effect to catch every nuance of each of the ten numbers. On this album you’ll find the subtle and the catchy, the gentle and the harsh – with a few surprises in store, including the plaintive “no hope” of No Bleeding Hearts that will circle in your mind for hours, and the plaintive cry of “Oh No!” that closes this remarkable album.
It’s a work that is far more profound and multi-layered – and mysterious - than anything Harley has produced before. It WILL give you goose-bumps, guaranteed. So, back to the original question: what it is that makes a really good album? It rather looks like Steve Harley has found the answer. And the answer lies in the album “Stranger Comes to Town”.
Stranger Comes to Town
Five Stars *****