The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Friday, September 20, 2002

Going back to Sinatra's Where Are You? for a second: the centerpiece of that troubled record was his (partly self-written) knife-edge interpretation of "I'm A Fool To Want You" addressed very clearly to Ava Gardner. The reason? It is a relationship that will be troubled forever; he will always be one point of a triangle, or even one-twelfth of a dodecahedron; but he cannot give up the drug; the excitement, the LOVE is immovable. Only in the final verse, with Gordon Jenkins' orchestra completely silent and the studio echo turned off - with his voice alone - do we hear of love on this record. "Take me back..." he has to wrestle it out of his soul..."...I love you." He sings the word "love" as though he is piercing his own throat with a sliver of the splintered mirror glass into which he has just been staring.

And if Lewis Taylor's eponymously-titled debut album of 1996 (another good record from 1996! Whatever was I thinking of?) is about anything, it's about that kind of relationship contained within, or overpowering, one's life. Throughout the record he loves and worships the Other, knows that he is doomed by doing so and yet wants it more than anything. The Stranger he is trying to repel is in fact the interior of the maternal cord which he cannot let go.

The ghost of Marvin Gaye is prevalent throughout the whole album - but it's a magnification of the dejected Marvin Gaye, wandering the seafront at Ostend, trying to remember his own purpose while remembering not to run back to it (when he eventually did, it of course killed him). Like Earthling, about whom I talked not long ago, this record is an indicator of the road some of us would have liked "Britpop" to travel down, or at least help to open up the customs gates.

Appropriate that track one, the single "Lucky," should begin with a familiar static sample - the intro to "Magnetic Field" from Joe Meek's I Hear A New World (as with Monk in jazz, the colossal influence of Meek on subsequent pop is even today only slowly being realised). The song is a triptych of unresolved feelings, beginning with an undulating guitar/bass line and a chord sequence almost sore in its poignancy, and then Taylor's vocal; demonstrably never as free as Gaye's, but superb within its own limits. It rises to a mid-song crescendo (throughout the record, Taylor understands the architecture and cumulative impact of multi-vocal tracking much better than the Ashcrofts of this world) and then a major key emerges like a bleak sun rising over Ms Dynamite's unfinished Docklands. He celebrates his lamenting with his determinedly rock guitar (Taylor pretty well sang and played everything on this record himself).

The mood continues in the next song, "Bittersweet," where an unsettling melodic motif is set against a fuzzed bass and a pointillistic rhythm which foreshadows Dif Jux. He is with the Other but unsure about how he feels about how she REALLY feels ("You laugh at me after we make love!"). But again the darkness breaks, and the whole performance rises to a blissful mid-section of realisation, with multiple voices exploding like blossoming geraniums over "Great Gates of Kiev" organ; Earth Wind & Fire's "Fantasy" becoming a reality. And once he has overcome this barrier, it is easy for Taylor to ascend that one simple step higher into a rejoicing, exclamatory hymn of unconditional love - "you're so salty!"

The next song "Whoever" is musically fairly straightforward - but note the little punctUMations which demarcate it with their doubts; the solitary dying guitar echo, the sudden epileptic dubbing of a bass note, the backwards chorus sounding as though he's drawing back his own breath, the Fairlight vox-sample descent towards the end. In this song he is aware that the Other has many of her own Others, but knows that she loves none of them, possibly including himself ("Whoever you're in love with..."). Again this does not persuade him to abandon her.

The next track, called, with Scott Walkeresque minimalism, "Track," starts off with Taylor's voices drowning in its own whirlpool of uncertainty over a guitar chorale which could easily be Mike Oldfield. The song then cuts back to a slow soul procedural which eventually rises to a "Kashmir"-type climax and then recedes. The next song, called, with Paul Morleyeque pointedness, "Song," has him close to the mike, but his doubt is eventually swept away by gorgeous '80s synthesisers. Or is it?

Side two is largely a steadier, more closely inspected, kind of soul searching. Whereas Taylor elsewhere maximises his resources, his feelings, for the first few tracks on side two he becomes more interested in the microtones of rhythm, of vocal yelps, much in the same way as D'Angelo does on his forensic dissemination of a second album, Voodoo. And Taylor does it very well. On "Betterlove" which is heralded by an autumnal Sing Something Simple chorale quickly superseded by more eddying guitars, Taylor wins over the Other (or thinks that he does) with relish and real eagerness, but never overplaying his hand. Both this and the next track "How" stimulate like Prince used to be able to do (e.g. "Adore"). In the track "Right," which starts with some Aphex Twin bleeps and distant guitar foghorns, but quickly moves back into the eye of his unquiet storm, Taylor utilises the traditional "since the Garden of Eden, man and a woman, make sure she knows you love her" theme. Punctum is provided by his final paraphrasing of Tony Etoria's '77 Brit soul paradigm "I Can Prove It" which results in the admonition "are you good enough to go waltzing into her life"?

Doubt is defeated in the astonishing ninth track on this album "Damn" (as in "damn I love you/I never really wanted to"). Supported by some sublime Philly harmonies (listen to the unabashed chordal poignancy when the backing singers reach the word "down") Taylor confesses that it is pointless for him to doubt when love is present. He HAS to surrender to the Other, no matter what it costs him, even if it's his mind ("I don't know right from wrong/I don't know where my mind has gone"). And the motif is repeated over and over while organ and guitar gradually boil to a climax behind the voices, finally explodinig in a miraculous freeform storm, with Cecil Taylor piano clusters, backward tapes, guitar feedback, Sun Ra organ all symbolising the atoms of Taylor's mind derailing, splitting and reassembling in a far more beautiful shape, the chorus continuing all the while. "I Am The Walrus" redirected by Willem de Kooning. Before it all is about to boil over

it cuts off

you don't need to know the rest

but a Ligeti/Berio semi-atonal choir comes in for the epilogue "Spirit" in which Taylor outlines his reasons for surrendering to the Other...because, ultimately, he needs someone to take him under her care, needs to know that someone is there, needs to know if her God is really real. "Help me" he asks the listener politely at the end.

Forget the Verve; these were our real urban hymns.

posted by Marcello Carlin Permalink
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