Ten years after Tim Bowness’ previous solo album ‘My Hotel Year’ he returns with ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’.
Primarily known as vocalist/co-writer with the band No-Man (his voice reminiscent of Prefab Sprout’s Paddy McAloon) a six-album collaboration with Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson that began a quarter of a century ago he has also collaborated with Robert Fripp (King Crimson), Hugh Hopper (Soft Machine) and Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera. He is also an active member of the bands Henry Fool and Memories Of Machines.
Opener ‘The Warm-Up Man Forever’ starts with rockabillyesque drumming and tells a tale of an embittered understudy or support act, tired of playing second or lower fiddle and continually being ignored. To not even be noticed is the ultimate ignominy.
‘You don’t wanna face the people… you don’t wanna show your real self and end up broken at their feet … Cruising the back stage spitting feathers, under the radar spilling blood.’ Is Bowness referring to his own past and experience, striving to break free from his associates? The song closes with a great spiralling guitar.
The beguiling and outstanding ‘Smiler At 50’ narrates the tale of the eponymous Smiler, hitting the half century, looking back, taking stock, thinking about her Mother. Has she turned into her? It continues ‘she eats alone these days … there was a time she used to love.’ The music is tinged with regret and remorse with wistful lyrics replaying the memories scene by scene ‘…weeps for places where she’s been and those she’ll never know’. Prog-synths abound and then six minutes in the music crashes, a coda picking up the story. What’s happened/happening to Smiler? We are left to wonder.
‘Waterfoot’ is hazy with a sound and mood akin to Robert Kirby’s work on Nick Drake’s records. Classical composer Andrew Keeling’s strings slowly building and mirroring the continuing theme of a woman’s woes ‘revealing rainbows through the grime, a life that’s less unkind’. ‘Dancing For You’ doesn’t let up in its downward spiral, ‘somebody died, somebody you used to love and hold, you lied down and cried and listened to the ebb and flow of your breathing’ before advising ‘don’t do reflection, don’t do regret, don’t linger on things you’d rather forget’.
‘Beaten By Love’ starts off like Ann Peebles’ ‘I can’t stand the rain’ before ‘touch my lips, stroke my wrist, bite my arm, cut my face, wrap your anger lightly round my neck, wrap your anger tightly round my neck’, caress to strangle, a touch is a touch.
This album is perfect for one side of a C90 cassette to soundtrack a car drive through the plains of olde Albion. The bucolic shimmer of a hazy Summer’s day, the gap between daylight and dusk; evocative of a pastoral time with its very ‘English’ sound and themes: behind the sweet smiles and gritted pleasantries lies a malevolence and meanness laced with sorrow and secrets. On repeated listening the desolation is palpable. Lyrically strong the album is wracked with a feeling of loneliness, isolation, remorse, regret and the epiphany of realising time has run out is dominant through this album.