“…a big factor is we are very much back to being indie. In the past, our records would have been made with a huge amount of effort from record companies, publishers, management, and now since the release of our last China’s album, Autumn In The Neighbourhood, we are very much DIY which is exactly how we started out…yay! Indie rocks.”(Gary Daly, Cellophaneland)
Review Part I by Francis Sinnott:
When Arthur G. Daly announced on the China Crisis Facebook page that he was about to release a new solo album, on the evening of April 1st this year, many fans familiar with his hilarious on-stage banter would have taken note of the date and wondered if this was an April fools prank. Still, the link to Music Glue, the independent platform chosen for the album’s release, looked legit, and a free video release on You Tube of one of the new tracks, “I work alone” accompanied to clever affect by an intercut of hundreds of images of Gary’s artwork confirmed the exciting news.
Although Daly had released two solo mini-albums in the past with the “Visionary Mindset Experience” in 2007 and “How to Live and Love your Life” in 2008, a solo album was, for even the most ardent China Crisis fans, a best kept secret. It transpires that a solo long player was always a long term goal for the China Crisis front-man but a sense of unfinished business with that much-loved outfit resulting in the release of the sublime long player “Autumn in the Neighbourhood” in 2016, kept his plans on the back-burner.
Of all the tracks on “Gone from Here”, “Time It Takes” is probably the one that will most please fans of the quintessential China Crisis sound. In fact, sounding soft and breezy with a jazzy sophistipop feel, more than any other song on the album, this feels like it could easily have been salvaged from the sessions that produced the sublime “Flaunt the Imperfection” back in the group’s halcyon days. Percussively propelled along by a trademark booming bassline, the highlight here is a melodic middle-eight, featuring a gorgeous counter melody which bridges the lyrical divide between the earlier despairing faded love of ‘I have lost all feeling in my heart for you,’ to the more optimistic and conciliatory, “Well you know deep down I’m gonna change for you”. A few Walter Becker-esque electric guitar licks and handsome backing vocals on the outro seal the deal.
Track 3, “I Work Alone“, is a real electro indie-pop roots revival, Daly clearly revelling in the new DIY ethic and the freedom to rediscover the type of music that first inspired him. Fans of very early China Crisis, Kraftwerk and OMD will find their toes tapping along effortlessly to the mechanised rhythm and well crafted, catchy melody. Thematically, the song is a meditation on the endeavour and industry of the songwriter, the writer comparing his craft to that of the fisherman, “melodies are like fishes in the sea”, albeit one who feels gratified at never having to become a slave to the nine-to five grind. A freedom that allows the narrator to soar high like the birds and the wind, free to observe, experience and create. An undoubted album highlight.
“I can see the fair ground and hear the carousel / Maybe one day and maybe one day soon, maybe I should ride on the carousel.”
“Carousel of Stars” invites the listener to join the writer on a stroll through a city parkland landscape on a crisp autumn evening, the open spaces inviting contemplation and introspection. One feels drawn into journey simply because the writer lays an interesting storyboard on the table. John Campbell from the group, It’s Immaterial, provides the spoken word and those familiar with their big hit ‘Driving away from Home’ will no doubt see similarities between both tracks. However, this is no mere homage to that evergreen classic. What sets “Carousel of Stars” apart is the trademark cohesive aural China Crisis sound, incorporating pipe organ, dreamy keyboards, heavenly saxophone and even bird-sounds. The opaque imagery of The Carousel allows us to project our own personal interpretation to the song’s meaning, a rupture to another life perhaps, or an escape to another dimension……Above all else, this is a track that is a first class example of how a lyric can paint pictures and in this case the excellent production magnifies the power of the lyric to make this track nothing short of a work of art.
Gary Daly has never been slow to acknowledge his musical heroes and influences but it is truly endearing to hear him name-check a fellow musician so audaciously on “Anton”, a tribute of sorts to Anohni (formerly known as Antony Hegarty) and her collaborators. That Gary should be a fan of Antony and the Johnsons should come as no surprise to those that recognize the same boards they tread in baroque chamber pop magic. Possibly the simplest song on the album, minimalist keyboard flourishes accompany an almost child-like nursey rhyme lyric that explores the otherworldliness that the artist inhabits, with regret and repentance once again the dominant themes at play. Simple, effective and, like many Gary Daly compositions, a bit of a mystery.
When Estella asked me to co-write the review of this album we divided up the tracks like two captains in the school ground picking football teams from their classmates. This turned out to be a lot of fun and quite instructive, as lifelong China Crisis fans, we were both thinking along the same lines and we tended to favour the same songs. Obviously, there had to be one track that was ‘the last one picked’. This was it. This is not to say that the almost acoustic, “Of Make and do and Mend”, is the weakest song on the album, as it’s clearly not. It is however, the most sonically and lyrically challenging song of the bunch, but one that slowly reveals its beauty with repeated listens. From the ‘Moments in Love’ inspired intro to the beautiful interweaving of harp and cello in the middle eight, Gary takes us through a Grimm Brothers inspired fairy tale forest inhabited by wolves and wild dogs to rediscover the steamy Wuthering Heights romance of Cathy and Heathcliff. At its heart it is a homage to early Kate Bush and also, at Gary’s insistence, the most romantic song he has ever written.
“Some of my friends they are no longer here / they are gone my dear / gone from here / and sometimes I wonder / if they’ll re-appear/ but they are gone my dear /gone from here”
“Gone From Here”: familiar sounding oriental chimes, used to clever effect on many early China Crisis records heralds the final and title track of the album. It some becomes clear why this one got title billing. Continuing the overall album theme of transition, change, atonement and acceptance, Daly, voice cracking with emotion, examines the wonderment of long term love and the humility and resilience required to allow that bond to survive through many changing circumstances. The melancholic sentiments, lamenting the loss of friends is counterpoised by an uplifting melody that offers hope for the future. The song plays out to the vibration of those oriental chimes, “Red Sails in the Sunset”, back to where it all began for Gary 40 years ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same. In times of great change “Gone from Here” acts as an antidote to chaos and as a meditation on the trials and tribulations of a middle aged man in the 21st century, it exceeds on all levels.
(Francis Sinnott, May 31 2019)
Review Part II by Estella Rosa:
I was very pleasantly surprised with the album! Let’s be honest: often one’s former heroes disappoint with their latest work. I know most people persist in listening, glossing over the fact that the current work would never have gotten them into this artist if this were a first acquaintance. But then again, some would say, these people have built a name for themselves: they deserve a ton of slack. I am not sure if I agree. I listen to music because I like what it sounds like. Because it affects my emotions in some way or other. I am not interested in the context. This I would equally apply to my old heroes. But after putting on my earphones, sitting down in the sun and hearing the first bars of the first song of “Gone From Here” (“Write Your Wrongs”) I felt a great relief : I just knew that Gary was not going to disappoint. I actually felt a bit silly for even considering the slightest possibility. How could he? He is Gary Daly… after all. He is just one of those few people that I know that just isn’t capable of making a single ugly tune.
The album seems to be stressing that certain phase in life in which one takes stock: how did I get here? what was lost or gained along the road? what is left? which path do we take from here? or maybe just pause, reflect and draw up a balance? “Gone From Here” is that balance, and starts off, aptly, with the process of elimination : “Write Your Wrongs“. The intro’s swirls of harp (played by Tom Moth from Florence And The Machine) herald an almost fairy-tale like new era in which we ponder the past, process, purge and start afresh. Whilst sounding fresh, we hear many signature elements that we know so well from the early China Crisis at the same same time. The sounds from the vintage Roland Juno 60 from 1983 certainly adds to that sense of familiarity: a feeling that is soothing and comfortable like an old favourite piece of garment that you found in the attic and just comes back from the dry-cleaner.
When Francis and I were distributing song choices by taking turns, I immediately said “Lowtide” and the short instrumental track which I perceive as its intro called “Transition / Peace” (reminiscent of “Tell Tale Signs“), as they spoke to me the most. At first hearing of these songs, I was soaking up some sun-rays and these tracks were just perfect for the occasion: they made me melt in my chair (in a good way). But, then again, I also have to admit that “Lowtide” comes closest to the genre I deal with and love the most, which is dreampop. China Crisis always had that dreampopppy guitar-sound going (very prominent in Christian), but with the full band and Jack Gardiner as 2nd guitarist live, this comes more to the fore than ever. It makes me happy to hear that same ethereal, soaring guitar in “Lowtide“, being guided all the way by a rippling acoustic guitar cascading gently down the scale, which makes it sound like going for a stroll on a fresh summery day. Gary: “Low Tide” is the new “No More Blue Horizons”…it’s also my little tribute to Nick Drake and his Bryter Layter album…..which i have always loved…”.
The same echoey, faraway guitar-sound returns in the latter half of “Anger And/Or Rage” (housing an exquisite undertow of baritone backing vocals), just like the early 80’s synth-sound à la Kraftwerk, Propaganda and OMD which is also, but especially, prominent in the main parts of the moody, abrupt “Dead of Night” in which a sweeping, balladlike waltz is contrasted with sparkly electropop.
“In the Cloudy Domain“ is a song that was a demo from earlier in 2009, and has been completely re-worked and taken down from YouTube because Gary wanted people to hear it afresh. To me that makes sense. I did hear the older version but I have to say that the new rendition has much more of an impact on me. This time it touches me and I can’t seem to get it out of my head. There is something so beguiling and pure in Gary‘s broken voice, fleeting, like a soul detaching itself from the body… Like it was recorded at just the right moment, in one take, unperturbed by imperfections, completely engrossed in the atmosphere and sentiment of the song and subject. It also shows a man who has come to a point in which his sense of self-worth and confidence have become a given. A man who can’t bothered anymore with slick productions and polished sounds. This a portrait of the artist as a middle aged man in kodakchrome… his true platinum record.
(Estella Rosa, May 31 2019)
The album is available and out now: