Monday 6 May 2013

Album Review - Shineback - Rise Up Forgotten, Return Destroyed

Number 2 in a very occasional series of "imaginary conversations with my musical heroes"

The other night, I was in bed, dreaming lovely dreams about the days when Phil Collins looked like a werewolf, when my curtains were all of a flutter and I felt a worrying disturbance in the force...


A bearded ballet dancer, climbing in through the window: Hello!

Gigging Forever: What the actual feck?

The hirsute stranger in a tutu: Wotcha! I'm your Mother God-Fairy, and I'm here to grant you three wishes.

GF: Isn't it genies who grant wishes?

Mother God-Fairy:  You're the one who tried to turn my name into a torturous wish-based pun that nobody will even get.

GF: Good point. Why are you wearing a tutu?

Simon Godfrey (for it is he...) Well, I am the Prog Princess.

GF: Princesses don't wear tutus. Do fairy godmothers even wear tutus?

SGProbably not. Look, do you want these wishes or not? I'm a busy man since I turned full-time professional Faceboo..., er musician.

GF: Well, I suppose I might as well. Can I wish for anything at all?

SG: Hmm, try me.

GF: Can you make it so that 'Tormato' doesn't suck?

SG: That's way beyond my powers, I'm afraid.

GF: How about making it so that Robert Fripp doesn't ever appear on All-Star Mr. and Mrs?

SG: Too late.

See these lovely cakes? I bet you'd like to eat one, wouldn't you?
Well you CAN'T! Ahahahahaha!
Or, you can, but I'll probably sue you.

GF: You're quite a rubbish Fairy Godmother, aren't you?

SG: To be honest mate, I'm not even sure that Fairy Godmothers are supposed to grant wishes at all, so I don't know which scary part of your brain dreamed me up.

GF: Okay then, let's try something a bit simpler. Can you make me an album?

SG: James, you know perfectly well I've just made an album and my record label has sent it to you to review, and quite frankly I'm getting fed up with you wasting valuable words on not reviewing it. People will think it's rubbish and you're just trying to avoid saying so...

GF: Simon, for the purposes of the whole review concept, could you maybe just say "Yes, James, I reckon that's one thing I CAN do!"

SG: Yeah, ok then, sure.

GF: Go on then.

SG: James, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to spend my every waking moment creating an album just for you - entirely tailored to your musical taste, and every whim and fancy.

GF: That sounded kind of sarcastic, but fine.

SG: Right then, we've got a blank piece of paper here and an empty hard drive - where would you like me to start?

GF: Ok. Well, you know I'm a sucker for anything which mixes up sounds that don't normally belong together...

SG: Like Katie Price and a recording studio?

GF:... no, not quite like that - I was thinking more like orchestras plus bands, pop music with middle eastern influence...

SG: Oh, I see where this is going. You'd like a europop concept album about the Sultan of Brunei?

GF: ... not exactly. I was thinking, as my two favourite genres of music are prog and electronica-slash-dance music, it's about time someone made an album mixing those two things together?

SG: Prog... and electronica? Progtronica! I'm so copyrighting that.

GF: Knock yourself out. So, what do you think?

SG: Weeeelllll, that's actually a cracking idea. I could just take my brilliant Tinyfish-style songwriting, and then just stick a few bleeps and bloops over the top of it. Bish bosh, sorted.

GF: You don't actually say stuff like "Bish Bosh, sorted" in real life, do you?

SG: No, not at all. I don't know what you're doing to me here, mate.

GF: Sorry. Anyway, No. NO NO NO.

SG: No what?

GF: A few bleeps and bloops are not going to cut it. If you're going to do this, it needs to be proper. I want mega dancefloor smashes. I want screeching Justice-style keyboard riffs. I want pounding drum 'n' bass beats, and samples which go kind of "Wuuuurrrrggghhhhh" in a really deep voice. Actually I didn't know I wanted those but if you were to give them to me, it would turn out that I really, really enjoyed them. I want beautiful vocal harmonies, I want innovative sound treatments and effects, and I want a dash of Kraftwerk-esque minimalism here and there too. But most of all, I want the sound of someone doing whatever the heck they want and not caring about what anyone else is going to think about it. (Apart from me, obviously...)

SG: And... and... I could call up my Tinyfish bandmate Rob Ramsay to work on the story and lyrics, and we could make it into a concept album about child abuse!

GF: You two are quite strange people, aren't you?

SG: Sorry.

"Come with me, as I explain the wonders of the universe... you promise you're going to
put the graphics on in post production, right?"

GF: No, it's ok, I said you should do whatever the heck you want within my extremely narrow predefined criteria - so just go for it. I'm sure you can make it work. And even if you can't, nobody will mind. Nobody knows what "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" is about, and that doesn't seem to matter.

SG: It's about this Puerto Rican street kid who... um...

GF: Yeah, anyway, I need to get back to sleep, so can you, um... fly away home or something?

SG: Ok, I'll be back when you least expect it to show you what I've done so far.

GF: When I least expect it will be 'any time soon'.

SG: Git.

GF: Sorry.

When this is made into a film, I think there should definitely be a montage at this point of Simon starting work, scribbling down ideas on blank sheets of paper which get tossed into a bin, sitting around in his pants watching Jeremy Kyle, having a karate lesson with a small Japanese dude, and then having a sudden flash of inspiration and tapping away at his computer like a mad professor. Maybe playing some instruments or something, but that would be optional.

Wibbly "Time passing" effect


SG: I'm back! I've done it!

GF: Great! Where are we?

SG: What do you mean?

GF: I mean, we've not set the scene, I could be anywhere. I could be in the bath and you would have just appeared in it next to me, frankly I'm not sure I want that image in anyone's mind.

SG: It's your bloody blog. You decide.

GF: Okay, we're on the number 281 bus going to Tolworth.

SG: Am I still wearing a tutu and fairy wings?

GF: No, I'm not that cruel.

SG: Okay then. So, er, do you want to hear what I've done?

GF: Well, I don't know. I'm a little bit worried.

SG: How so?

GF: Well, let's see... You've told me you're making an album which you think is going to be right up my street. Also, the last album you were involved in making is one of my favourites of all time. Plus, although "Tutu Simon" is a figment of my imagination, the real you is actually kind of a mate, and if I didn't like it, it would be awfully embarrassing to have to say so, especially if you'd sent me a pre-release copy to review. I'd have to write a whole load of pointless guff just to skirt around the issue.

SG: More pointless guff than you usually write?

GF: Oh, that does it - you're totally getting the Sting treatment. Go on then, tell me about the album.

SG: It's bold. I've really gone all out and not bowed to what I thought anyone would expect from me.

GF: Even less prog-rock than Tinyfish?

SG: Oh yes. Although, the title track is over 10 minutes long and is almost a kind of electrofied version of 'Wide Awake at Midnight'. And there's something that sounds suspiciously like Mellotron flute on 'One Last Perfect Day'.

GF: Well that's ok, The Beatles used mellotron flute, they weren't prog.

SG: You really want to get into that whole "Is Abbey Road the first prog album" debate?

GF: No, ok, good point. So, no twelve string guitars, Rickenbacker basses or Mini Moogs?

SG: Absolutely not.

GF: And no rip-offs of 'Supper's Ready', with widdly keyboard solos and climactic, post-apocalyptic endings?

SG: Why the heck would I do that?

GF: Good question. Why would anyone? So, um, how is it a progressive album without any of that stuff then?

SG: Why don't you listen to the damn thing and find out?

GF: What a superb suggestion.

I think this is vocalist Danny Claire.
Either that or one of the members of Tinyfish has had quite a makeover.

There follows a lengthy pause where I drift off into a world of musical delights...

GF: Blimey. The first 4 tracks are quite a statement of intent - trance-style vocals from Danny Claire kick things off immediately into unexpected territory, for those who haven't been paying attention along the route at least - and then we're suddenly catapulted into super-mega-rifferama, as first song proper, 'Is This the Dream' kicks in. But what's this? The heavy, dark riff mirrors the start of this most difficult of stories without the audible use of a single guitar. What's more, it then immediately ushers in popp-y drum beats and an upbeat tune which breaks down halfway through into a mashy, glitchy section before the the catchy chorus comes back in to complete the song.

'Under My Feet' is a brief linking section with beautifully harmonised treated vocals recalling Imogen Heap's 'Hide and Seek', and it gives us a welcome respite before one of the most powerful tracks of the whole album. 'Bedlam Days' starts by rolling along on a gentle bed of sequenced keyboard notes, before assaulting the unwary listener with another Jan Hammer-esque keyboard riff which is then rudely interrupted by what can only be described as Pendulum style drum 'n' bass, breakbeats and the aforementioned "Wuuuurgggghhhh" noises.

It's at this point that it's easy to imagine the unwary prog rock fan ejecting the CD in abject fear and disgust,  and hiding it away in a place where it can never again encourage them to think unclean thoughts about the music of "the young folks". But they'd miss the most Tinyfish-like song on the album, as 'Faultines' is a beautiful, straight-ahead ballad of the kind you'd most expect from Simon and his acoustic guitar, the only difference being the synthesised percussion. How like Simon, to confuse us by doing what we'd expect after such a genre-defying opening.

Another linking piece (named after one of our heroine, Dora's blogs), soothes the senses in preparation for yet another aural assault, as 'Here Come the Envoys' will quite possibly end up being one of the most divisive pieces on the album- as following its dark, synth and beat-heavy opening with one of the first guitar solos to be heard on the album, it then breaks down into a kind of 90's Europop take on 'The Colony of Slippermen', as the eponymous characters from the song's title make their appearance into the story, to drag Dora off into the dream world of The Memory House to confront her demons, which she seems to want to do through the medium of clubbing, if the music of 'Crush Culture' is anything to go by. Yet another monster electro-riff propels the catchiest track on the album - a song which is surely destined if not for the charts then at least for fans to have a bit of a jump around at gigs. "Memory House, give it up for Dora!", yells the MC, as the crowd go wild. And that's just 'Side 1', in old money.

This is where the magic happened.
Photo: James Allen

SG: *Cough*

GF: Oh, hello.

SG: Have you forgotten I'm here? Why are you talking like that? It almost sounds like an album review.

GF: Ah, yeah, sorry, won't happen again.

SG: You like it, then?

GF: I think you could say I'm a fan. You've pretty much achieved exactly what I hoped you would - proper songs in an electronic style, with the inventiveness of actual progressive music, and a healthy dollop of your usual songwriting brilliance. And let's not forget the rock sounds you've managed to get in there too - amazing guitar solos when they're called for, notably at the end of what is fast becoming my favourite track, 'Fears Aren't Toys', and some pretty awesome real drums on the epic title track.

SG: Um, to be fair, neither of those were me.

GF: They weren't? You cheat.

SG: I prefer to think of it as 'widening the net of experience to bring ultimate musical synergy with a view to focusing on value added tasks'.

GF: Uh-huh.

SG: I've got Matt Stevens to do quite bizarre things to a guitar on 'Bedlam Days', Dec Burke played that solo on 'Fears' which you just enjoyed so much, and Henry Rogers played the real drum track on 'Rise Up Forgotten, Return Destroyed', as well as two guitar solos from Andy Ditchfield and Hywel Bennett.

GF: Hen played the guitar solos by Andy Ditchfield and Hywel Bennett?

SG: You knew what I meant.

Look into the eyes, the eyes, not around the eyes...

GF: And the bass part on the title track is excellent, too, did you get Paul Worwood from Tinyfish in to do that?

SG: Ha! No, actually I did that all myself. But I did get Paul in to do something.

GF: Not the creepy voiceover of Dora's father on 'Xo Va Yu'? You cruel, cruel person. How are that poor man's kids ever going to sleep again when they hear that?

SG: Not my problem. Anyway, are you going to explain the story a bit?

GF: I kind of thought I would leave it as a surprise for when people hear it for the first time.

SG: You didn't pay proper attention to it, did you?

GF: Aw, that's unfair, you know how rubbish I am at paying attention to and understanding lyrics - especially of concept albums. I definitely got the gist, though. There's some pretty dark stuff going on here. I might suggest instead that people head over to your Facebook page to read your track-by-track explanations.

SG: Cop-out.

GF: All I will say, is that anyone who enjoyed the story aspect of 'The Big Red Spark' won't be disappointed with this, even if Rob's voice doesn't actually appear anywhere. Not that I detected, anyway. His legendary scariness, however, pervades and cannot be escaped.

No Biggles on this album, though.

SG: So, it sounds like you pretty much liked the loud/fast/upbeat tracks the best. That's so you.

GF: Partially guilty as charged, but there are so many goodies to choose from that it's easy to focus immediately on the "big numbers". However, I will say that once you've been through the album a few times, the linking/storytelling sections really start to reveal their hidden treasures - firstly 'The Clock of the Long Now', which is just beautiful in its quiet simplicity and almost Floyd-ian keyboard noodling, but most notably 'I Called Him in Vain (Blog 4)', whose chords are only a tympani roll or two away from recalling the quiet ending chords of Yes's 'Awaken'.

SG: Are you calling me a plagiarist now as well?

GF: Oh, c'mon.  I'm complimenting you on managing to use such heavenly and complicated sounding chords throughout the album, despite the sometimes more simple instrumentation than prog fans might be used to.

SG: Shucks. What about the last song? I was umming and ahhing between two choices...

GF: I think it works nicely as a happy-ish ending, the music is certainly suitably climactic, in a totally non-'Supper's Ready' kind of way. I do like the 'sad' alternative you also played me, though.

SG: Well, you know, if you pre-order the album from The Merch Desk right now, you can get that alternative ending as an exclusive track to listen to IMMEDIATELY.

GF: Sounds like everyone should head over there rightaway.

GF: Also. I hope it doesn't offend anyone if I say that this is by far the most professional sounding recording I've heard from any of the SG projects. It sounds like a lot of time has been spent on getting the sounds just so - it certainly sounds lovely on a nice pair of cans.

SG: I don't need to know about your lovely pair of cans, thanks. Nah, to be honest, I just brought in Tim "Mouse" Lawrie to help with production- he came in with his qualifications and all, and made it sound spangly and proper.

GF: Did he pay you to say that?

SG: Yeah. Did he pay you to mention him in the review?

GF: I am completely editorially independent. Apart from the time we went to that gig and you paid me not to mention the thing with the goat.

SG: Oh, yeah, god, thanks.

So, what do you reckon, then? Did I manage to grant your wish?

GF: Yep - I reckon you did, and then some. It's bold, it's inventive, it sticks at least two fingers up at the status quo (and at Status Quo), it makes me want to dance, laugh, cry and rock out all at the same time (which would no doubt be highly attractive) - but most of all it's the very definition of bonkers genius. You and Rob should be very proud.

SG: Ooh- you forgot something - you haven't mentioned one of the best tracks on the album, 'Passengers'.

GF: Oh yes.. it's almost as if I knew this would be going live on the day that 'Passengers' is released as a free download single.

SG: Spooky.

GF: It's a cracking song, and it can be yours for the very special price of nothing. Head over to the Bad Elephant Music Bandcamp page and download it now... don't delay, or they'll throw in a free copy of 'Love Beach' with every one.

SG: Who are you talking to now?

GF: Not really sure, to be honest.

SG: You know what? You've still got two wishes left.

GF: So I have. Hey, I know what, can I wish for a Shineback gig?

SG: It's funny you should say that, it's almost as if you knew this would be going live a week before my acoustic slot at the Celebr8 Music festival in Kingston-Upon-Thames on the 19th of May.

GF: Go figure.

SG: What about the last one?

GF: You know what, let's save it for later. You never know when I might decide I do want that Sultan of Brunei thing after all.

"Rise Up Forgotten, Return Destroyed" by Shineback is released by Bad Elephant Music on the 1st of July 2013.

All music is written by Simon Godfrey of Tinyfish and Men are Dead, and lyrics are by Robert Ramsay also of those parishes.

All instruments are played by Simon Godfrey except for some rather jolly spiffing guest appearances, and production is by Simon Godfrey and Tim "I have an actual qualification in this stuff" Lawrie.

Pre-order now to get an exclusive bonus track and pay for Simon to get home from Philadelphia in time for his acoustic set in Kingston Upon Thames on Sunday 19th of May at the Celebr8 festival.

Now, as we're a little ahead of schedule, there's just time for a little album sampler, which you can use to judge whether or not I've been talking out of my arse for the last 3,327 words.