Tim Bowness is primarily known as vocalist and co-writer with the band No-Man, but in recent years has struck alone with intriguing results. A year on from his acclaimed Abandoned Dancehall Dreams, he returns with the powerful and eclectic Stupid things that mean the World.
The album features regular members of the No-Man live band augmented by contributions from Van Der Graaf Generator’s Peter Hammill, Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera and David Rhodes (collaborator of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush).
Opener ‘The Great Electric Teenage Dream’ is a portentous ode to the ‘benefits’ of social media and ever-connectedness that social media and phones proffer: ‘an unknown friend, tossed up tweet, past recalled, present futures, promised roads …’ the music builds and culminates in a nightmarish coda of ‘Dream, dream, dream …’ Reality bites immediately (and virtually).
‘Sing to Me’ is built around a demo from 1994 by Bowness and long-time foil, Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson. Set to Pink Floydish music, it is a bucolic, melancholic and pastoral. ‘Where you’ve always been’ is a poetic address to somebody or someone who exists on the periphery, ‘you’ll still be here tomorrow, in the places inbetween, in love with your own sorrow, where you’ve always been …’ with a Morrisseyesque barb ‘quoting lines from books you’ve borrowed, the way you’ve always been’ There is a latent sadness in the music.
The poppy, peppy ‘Stupid things that mean the World’ continues the digs with ‘you lost the plot before the plot was hatched, a makeweight friend, a lousy catch, a car crash mind, one of a kind, my enemy my perfect match’. It has echoes of Paddy ‘Prefab Sprout’ MacAloon from the voice to the multi- layered backbeat.
‘Press Reset’ is a tale of the weekend hedonists, always the same, same time/place/people, the rut of the routine with the ‘tanked up boys and the weekend girls, lying wasted on the pavement … this is the day you’ll disappear’ before a crashing cacophony thundering punkish music and warnings: ‘too many actions that you live to regret …’ It features some Tangerine Dream-like atmospherics.
‘Everything you’re Not’ continues with a subtle look at this artificial, superficial individual, cloaked in deviancy, a he/she who ‘faked excitement, practiced party likes, nothing real can make it through’. The electric keys and ambient acoustics echo Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. The jumpy, Jethro Tullish ‘Everything but you’ is a short interlude with only breathy ‘ha-ha-has’, all mysterious and spooky and gone before you know it.
‘Soft William’ is the tale of someone living life by toss of the coin, playing the 50/50 odds with no luck (or is it luck you want?), Bowness intones, ‘you sit by the window, look out of the rails, heads you walk away, it always lands on tails, 26 years and you’re still out on your own’.
Overall this is an album riddled with lament and regret, populated by chancers, fakes and frauds, life’s social actors masking true selves. Thematically and lyrically rich with a cast of thousands … or is it one miscreant? This is a sprawling album that continues Bowness’s otherworldly work and singular talent. Soundtrack work must surely beckon.