Friday, 4 July 2008
The Hollies "Confessions Of A Mind" (1970) (Revised Review 2015)
On which the Hollies get confessional, sort of...
Track Listing: Survival Of The Fittest/ Man Without A Heart/ Little Girl/ Isn’t It Nice?/ Perfect Lady Housewife/ Confessions Of A Mind// Lady Please/ Frightened Lady/ Too Young To Be Married/ Separated/ I Wanna Shout (
tracklisting. In the US this album was known –for some peculiar reason - as Moving Finger with some tracks substituted for the contemporary Hollies single Gasoline Alley Bred) UK
Well, here we are again with 'Confessions Of A Mind', which is now on draft eight (or is it nine?), a record for this site I think. As with last time, my problem with getting to grips with this record lies not with the record (which is fabulous, even by Hollies standards!) but with me, and in how far back this album and I go. I've grown up to this record, understood life more thanks to this record and it's probably not too much of an exaggeration to say that I'm only still here because of this record (plus a few of it's friends). No matter how dispassionately I try to look at this album, how often I've tried to skip my boring introduction and go straight to the album, this opening paragraph always sounds boring and wrong without this first admission because the stakes really are that much higher. It really doesn't matter what facts I give you or comments on what The Hollies were doing - because while yes that's all very nice and good and interesting this record is one of those occasional delights that's bigger than that - it's a wise old soul this album (so so different to the delightful youth of last record 'Hollies Sing Hollies'!) that says much more than words and facts and details ever could say. I'm half tempted to leave this review here and just say 'buy it and fall in love with it too...'
....But 'Confessions Of A Mind' deserves more than that somehow and I refuse to spend less words on this than 'Hollies Sing Dylan' so here I go again, as it were. The Hollies have always been my first love and – like a lot of first loves – they may pale in beauty, intelligence and creativity with your later life-long partners but they’ll never leave your imagination and memory alone, no matter how many mistakes and problems they give you in later years. This is The Hollies at their midway point and pretty neatly almost comes at the mid-point of the website too (editor's note: this was review #39 of a chronologically arranged collection of 101 album reviews once upon a time - we were supposed to end when we got to that stage, but you know how carried away we get here at the AAA....) I should perhaps have put that admission in the first Hollies album review written for this set ('Evolution' as it happens) and I tried to put it there - but somehow it belongs here, in the middle, right in the beating heart of this site and the music it covers (with '1970' our 'middle' year in many ways), caught between one decade and the next, in the epicentre of the Holliedays (that glorious moment somewhere round the first week of August when you've thrown off the shackles of the last term and aren't yet dreading the next one). Besides, this is an album all about confessions and thoughts normally hidden from view, full of hidden illicit affairs, worries, doubts and fears and anti-war protests, so it feels right that it should be here, not there. 'Confessions' is an album of hellos and goodbyes: it's the first to have Terry Sylvester as fully paid up member of the band, the first to have the band going their separate ways in the writing stakes and the first to take up the influence of the band former member Graham Nash was busy establishing in America, full of outraged protest and gripes at social inequality....and it's also the last record to feature the 'old' Hollies sound, that energetic enthusiastic whirlwind of noise and finesse that no other band can touch, as well as featuring the very last Clarke-Hicks-Nash composition (left over from 1968). It's an album about the present, not like the early Hollies albums which long for a golden rosy future or mourn for a fleeting glimpse of one in the rear view mirror (just compare 'Butterfly' with 'Another Night' - that will tell you all you need to know about the change in this band's sound...) In other words it's one of those rare albums that manages to be everything at once - impossibly sad and mournful, full of seething fury and wild rage and yet it's also tremendously uplifting, the world a better place for each revolution of the needle round the record. While this record isn't quite my favourite of all time - it's not actually quite my favourite Hollies record even (where 'Butterfly' just beats 'Romany' in a pretty tight contest, though I do love it dearly) - it is one of those special records that grows with you along at your own speed, sounding every bit as great when I was aged six as it does now (when I feel aged a hundred and six!) (editor's note on latest re-write: make that five hundred and six!) Without this album, without that first golden step, there might never have been an Alan's Album Archives (so now at least you know who to blame for all this writing doing your eyesight in!) More than a mere album, this record walks in eternity and may well have been sent back through a worm-hole in space to inform mankind, Crystal Skull-like, into his mission on planet Earth. Or was that just a dream I had? (Yes even my dreams come in musical terms - doesn't everybody's?!?)
Meanwhile, back in our universe, in 1970 The Hollies are re-grouping and still nursing their wounds after Graham Nash swapped them for the bright lights of America and two musical madmen named Crosby and Stills. Things had for a time seemed to go oh-so wrong: for my ears the over-sugary single 'Sorry Suzanne' and the misguided 'Sing Dylan' LP are the band's first mistakes - the only mistakes this most consistent of bands will make until a more difficult 1980s one unfortunate disco single apart. Even the bright brave return on 'Hollies Suing Hollies' was only partially successful, caught between the new thoughts and feelings the band were feeling and their desire to remain playing the pop game (the album cover of the band in lace shirts probably didn't help much either). In 1969 Nash must have felt vindicated by his decision to leave the band and not only because of their contrasting sales - The Hollies seemed finished to most outsiders, left behind in the 'old decade' as a teeny-bopper band whose audience had grown up to other things and whose younger brothers and sisters had so many other bigger bolder hipper acts to keep them amused. The release and huge success of 'Hollies Greatest' in late 1968 had been a financial boost admittedly, but like many a compilation it had caused short-term pain and long-term gain; there was now a neat line between what The Hollies had done and with so many other acts around why should the world care what The Hollies still had to offer?
And then something amazing happened. Tony Hicks and his magic ears happened to be passing by music publisher Cyril Shane's office as he raved about a bunch of Italina and German language demos he'd just picked up by a bunch of unknown songwriters. Hicks was polite, but tired and as one unsuitable single after another piled up on the desk in front of him and Shane whispered the translations into his ear for minute after minute he uncharacteristically lost his patience. 'Haven't you got anything in English?' he pleaded. 'Only one - but it's a big ballad and won't be up your street' he replied. It was 'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother' and by the end of the song Tony was in love (no not with the publisher but with the song, do keep up!) Though contrary to popular opinion and even Nash's memory of being jealous 'He Ain't Heavy' wasn't quite an immediate hit - many fans and some critics felt it was a wrong fit for The Hollies and the first time around it peaked at only #3 in the UK singles chart (by 1988 and half a lifetime of doing songs like this the public were more accepting, the single finally peaking at the top of the charts after being used in a beer commercial). However the single was successful enough to do three important things for The Hollies: it restored confidence, it opened up doors and it proved to the band that there was life after Graham Nash and a new direction to go in to boot.
Given that the band themselves hadn't written the song there isn't really that much of a flavour of 'He Ain't Heavy' across this album - whilst the orchestra, this time arranged by Johnny Scott returning after working on 'Butterfly' , is once more firmly in place as it had been since 1966 the sound is just one of many textures used in this album not the whole one. The Hollies too don't write that many ballads just yet either, although this album's best known song 'Too Young To Be Married' (a big and deserved hit round most of the world but frustratingly never released as a single in the UK or US) is one of their best. No, the difference is that The Hollies have chosen to take up the 'heavier' side of what was on the table on 'Hollies Sing Hollies', coming up with CSN-like songs of anti-war, guilt, relationships and poverty (not that the trio often did the latter it's true, but Nash's 1977 CSN song 'Cold Rain' about his Manchester upbringing would have been a perfect fit for this album for those who know it). A little ironically too, The Hollies are keen to fill in the vacuum left behind by...Crosby, Stills and Nash, who'd split after only their second album in March 1970, which must surely have made the rest of the band feel a little better (after all, what band better suggests stability than the fifty-one-years-without-a-gap Hollies, such a contrast to the rollercoaster ride that was CSN). There are no pop songs here (although curio blues song 'Perfect Lady Housewife with its Sesame Street style chorus comes closest), with every track pulling its weight and taking the band somewhere new. We're used to hearing The Hollies being catchy - but now they're being catchy and deep and as all our regular readers must known by now one of these is enough for musical fame; have two and you're up for musical immortality.
Terry, perhaps the most under-rated Hollie, has a good deal to do with this change. Though he was there for the writing of 'Hollies Sing Hollies', he was still very much in awe of his older, more experienced colleagues and doesn't add much of a stamp to that album. By contrast his fingerprints are all over this one, the records that sounds closest to the sighing orchestral feel and occasional outrage of his solo work with co-writes on four of the songs now. Allan is actually enjoying life without Graham, realising that as the de facto band leader now people listened to him and not just because of Graham telling him what to do - his songs too continue the giant leap forward he'd experience making 'Sing Hollies' and with Terry as a regular writing partner seems to have hit a rich seam of creativity about here. Bernie continues to be one of the era's unsung hero bass players, weaving his own strand of sturdiness to these lives of drudgery and dread and creating a good half of the drama on one of his best showcases 'A Man Without A Heart'. Only Bobby doesn't get as much to do with a quieter, slower tone throughout the album - although perhaps sensing this he gets the only true drum solo of his career with the jaw-dropping thrash he adds to the middle of the opening track 'Survival Of The Fittest', a sound we nominated near the top of our 'greatest ever AAA solos' on this site a few years back, closely followed by the rattaled tom-toms of 'Separated'. After a troubled couple of years between 1968 and 1969 The Hollies are now a band again, vindicated in many of their decisions and working together on a rare Hollies record where everyone shines in turn.
However it's Tony who impresses most across this record, emerging from pretty much nowhere to become the groups’ lead songwriter, for the moment writing all on his own (though regular collaborator Kenny Lynch will be along for the ride in an LP's time, the two old casual acquaintances discovering by chance that they're now next door neighbours in St John's Wood, a mere acetate's throw away from Abbey Road). After years of being the 'cute' Hollie, singing about schoolgirls, the wonders of nature and mythological horses, Hicks really finds his stride as a 'lyrical' writer here with plenty to say. Though admitting later that he'd been impressed by the records his ex-partner was now making in America, what's impressive about these songs isn't just that they mine the CSN 'town crier' philosophy of taking a stance and giving a voice to other people who don't have one, but that they do so in a very 'English' way (as if to remind Graham of what he's missing - and how much they're missing him). While America does have a 'class' system (like most countries) it's not quite so blatant as ours and while there are far less nets to catch you at the bottom rung of the ladder, even now when 'ours' have all but been taken away, there's generally less reasons for people to fall that far without someone stepping in to help (with exceptions of course - New Orleans is the American 'Manchester'). By contrast to most capitalism-is-great you-got-to-go-for-it American upbringings, most of The Hollies would have been brought up somewhere along the lines of 'you'll have to work and play hard - you'll still be doomed but at least you won't go under'). It's that sort of feeling Nash was trying to invoke in 'Cold Rain' I think, his shock at returning to the land of his birth and recognising so many of the same characters standing around looking beaten when he'd 'escapes' to enjoy a life of sunshine and prosperity in America that none of his family had ever dreamed of. Hicks senses this too and with The Hollies no longer pop connoisseurs feels he can at last put it into words - you can almost hear the frisson of excitement in the studio as The Hollies realize they've found 'their' sound, one that doesn't sound like the Nash of the past or present. Any writer would be proud to have 'Too Young To Be Married' on their CV (a song that says so much without ever coming right out and saying it - another English trait in heavy contrast to CSNY's outspoken Americana and, say, 'Ohio' or 'Long Time Gone'; similarly has there ever been a more English line than 'we wanna shout it out loud but our love is not to show?') However that's only one gem: there's the poor little girl who tries to side with her parents in turn to calm them down from a split that's inevitable but she doesn't understand; the lover whose grown apart and distant from his wife (though in Hicks' case it's a girlfriend - he won't marry till 1974) and isn't sure whether to leap into something new or give her one more chance; the nervous partner dreading her son going off to war ('Frightened Lady' is the single most CSN like song The Hollies did after 'Gasoline Alley Bred') and the worry of not being worthy enough on 'Lady Please' (such a contrast to the young hungry near-mysognistic Hollies narrators of the mid-1960s!) Even on the tracks Tony write he adds some of his greatest harmonies (the three-part Hollies sound actually sounds better when Sylvester replaces Nash, not necessarily Terry's voice is any better but simply because Hicks has a wider and more comfortable range to fill) and some of his greatest guitar solos: the flamenco flourish on 'Married', usually so happy but here a rare moment of luxury in a song about people who have nothing, is his best after the fuzz-fuelled mayhem of 'Hard Hard Year' (a very similar song actually - there's a case to be made that nobody did poverty better than The Hollies). This is a very different Hollies sound, built from the ashes of the old and yet it suits them so well.
Just listen to the opening notes of this album: there are certain sounds in music that can stop you in your tracks and bowl you over with their hypnotic simplicity and ear-catching brilliance. The opening notes of the opening track of Confessions Of The Mind are – out of all the albums on this list – one of the best examples of grabbing the listener by the ears, shaking their senses to the core and demanding that they give this album their full attention. Confessions never actually stops assaulting the senses with its combination of key harmonies, exotic bass runs and wild drumming until the dying notes of the closing track. The album never lets up - it's always trying something new and generally doing them well, with several sounds from the band's past (the Hammond organ not heard since 'Mr Moonlight', Clarke's glorious harmonica playing, Johnny Scott's strings, with perhaps the greatest of their 'orchestra rock' songs on 'Man Without A Heart') to go alongside many from their future (there's a whole load of acoustic guitars that have suddenly appeared from nowhere, a sound which is soon to be the dominant one come 1972, plus the tom-toms and bongos on 'Separated' which are very of their day). Ron Richards, whose been in charge of The Hollies sound since the very beginning, finally has a band kicking on all cylinders and willing to go that extra mile to make things work and so comes up with what's easily his best production since 'Butterfly' (in Beatle terms this record is their equivalent of 'Abbey Road', with that extra little bit of something in the production after the rawer harder-edged sound of 'Let It Be' / 'Hollies Sing Hollies').
Alas things won't last. Even with CSN fans desperate to hear what their new hero's old band was like, no competition from The Beatles for once (why on earth didn't EMI simply plough more money into The Hollies when they realised their biggest cash cow was no more after scoring two of the companies biggest hits in 1969?) and on the back of one of their new respect The Hollies still couldn't turn this album into a strong seller. While my Holliefied journey has led me to get in touch with quite a few fellow monkeynuts Hollies collectors down the years, all of whom seem to rate this album highly too, casual fans who own or two albums don't seem to know about this album either. The problem might be perhaps that this record falls between two stools - it isn't the poppy band of yesteryear or the orchestral ballad band they will become or that it doesn't have any big hit singles on it (though that said only 'Would You Believe?' 'For Certain Because' and 'The Hollies' (1974) contain any top ten hits, given The Hollies' desire to keep their singles and albums separate for as long as they could). It could perhaps that yukky cover of plain white writing on a background, which couldn't be less like the colourful sounds within. Or it could be that this album just wasn't marketed right - then or now, given how tough it is to find the flipping thing on CD (its only ever been issued twice in the thirty years and counting history of the compact disc; like much of the Hollies' 1970s catalogue it was re-issued a decade or so ago by the French label Magic with A sides and B sides as bonus tracks, still available quite cheaply as an import).
Well, short of phoning up EMI and demanding the release of Too Young To Be Married as a single and then pestering them to change the artwork, there’s not much I can do about most of this. But the timing of an original release matters little if enough curious fans are persuaded to go back and rescue a neglected gem from the waste heap of history, so here’s my claim – Confessions Of A Mind is vintage Hollies, mixing everything that made them great in the 60s (a great ear for musical hooks, stunning three-part harmonies and strong musicianship skills) with everything that’s about to come of age in the 70s (classic social protest songs and multi-layered sensitive songs a la CSN, the band co-founded by former Hollie Graham Nash). If you like any Hollies single or for that matter any album that we've ever rated highly on Alan's Album Archives then you need to own this album; yes 'Butterfly' might have the edge as a mood piece and I'm very fond of 'Romany' in an even more of a how-come-it-sold-a-pittance-and-nobody-knows-it? special ways. But those two albums might just be me, my love of British psychedelia, folk-rock and harmonies blinding me to the fact that both albums make the occasional mis-step and might not appeal to everyone. But I can't imagine anyone disliking 'Confessions' or at least not all of it - there's simply too much variety to admire, with everything the band touches largely turning to gold. One moment The Hollies are returning to their earliest beat-music past, the next they are singing the type of breezy pop that brought them so much success in the mid-60s, before moving on to stinging social protest of society’s forgotten down-trodden. In other words, Confessions is an album full of tuneful tunes, lyrical lyrics and harmonies to die for. What more can you ask for in an album? We fans wanna shout about this album out loud - but we can't let too many people know. After all, we can't have you all falling in love with this album can we? It's special, even by Hollies standards.
The best example of the rhythm section’s newfound interest comes with the opening track Survival Of The Fittest, where an opening piano lick is immediately doubled on bass and guitar and then left open for a rare Bobby Elliott drum solo which is one of the finest on record from this period. A last gasp of the unrivalled energy the band had been putting into their sound from their early Merseybeat days, the song is actually a last leftover from the past and the Graham Nash era, the last three-way Clarke-Hicks-Nash composition ever to be released (till retrospective rarities sets anyway) and first recorded in aborted sessions during 1968. Survival’s poppy bouncy energy makes it the perfect opening track, thrilling the listener with its classy three-point vocals on top of a restless ever-changing riff that glides from section to section with wild abandon. The lyrics of the song are interesting too, with Nash’s last kiss goodbye to his colleagues a set of verses dealing with emptiness felt by a celebrity trying to hide her true feelings every time she is on view. The façade she puts on is brilliantly undercut by Elliott’s tribal drumming, a sudden explosion of emotion that sounds like the true self of the character breaking free. Nash used this theme several times during his time with the Hollies (Clown, his first real solo song from For Certain Because where the narrator can’t work out why the other circus members are laughing at him until he realises he’s painted his smile upside-down, being the best example) and the Hollies return to possibly the same character’s plight in later songs like Star and Write On (both from Write On, 1976) as if using Graham’s original metaphor for himself as a metaphor for the band themselves (these songs poke fun at a B-list celeb who fails to get recognised by an A-list celeb and a fading writer whose songs don’t sell as well as they used to respectively).
Survival could be read as Graham’s final attempt to win his old band over to the ‘new’ writing concept of honest and heartfelt songs he’s about to go on to pioneer with CSN; not least the warning that his band’s old style is a dying breed with the line ‘her public acclaim’s not the same, such a sha-a-ame’. Yet the Hollies have the last laugh, adding to Nash’s song’s by re-energising it and dressing it up in so many glorious pop trappings from the band’s readily recognisable past that the result is totally irresistible and shows just how superb the band’s slice of 60s pop could be. Musically, the song is highlighted by Elliott’s thrilling drum solo, a compact piece of virtuosity that seems completely at65 odds with the 15-minute percussion pieces being released at the time (did somebody mention Ginger Baker?!?) A fantastic last piece of the old Hollies’ jigsaw, sandwiched together with the growing social awareness of their new music, this song is a forgotten gem that stands amongst the greatest of their achievements
Just as you’re about to relax, we’re off again into the two-minute mini-drama Man Without A Heart, with the most up-tempo start to a Hollies disc since the Merseybeat years. Man is an interesting exercise in tightly controlled tension, which musically creates high drama thanks to its claustrophobic bass riff which mirrors the narrator’s lyrical warning that a character should escape his gruff solitude and start to bring some love into his life or he will forever be trapped in his own room, alone. The band’s swirling harmonies, criss-crossing Clarke’s effortless lead, have never sounded this menacing before or since, but the true star of the show is orchestrator and conductor Johnny Scott, the band’s most sympathetic of their many orchestral collaborators over the years.
Little Girl is the first of this album’s many Hicks songs. Traditionally in Hollies writing lore, Nash wrote the verses, Clarke the middle eights and Hicks the catchy choruses, but by 1970 such three-way efforts were long gone. Instead this song is like one long chorus, switching between catchy verses and choruses and back and forth between the major and minor keys until the tension becomes almost unbearable. Although Hicks fits in a typically raw-yet-polished guitar solo, it’s Allan Clarke who is the star of this song and vocally he is at his finest on this sympathetic portrayal of a young girl caught in the middle of a divorce. Full of eye-watering imagery, sublime Hollies harmonies and Clarke adding one of the greatest, most heartbreaking harmonica licks of all time, this is another strong candidate for greatest Hollies album track of the period.
Isn’t It Nice? returns to the band’s 60s reputation for making easy-listening pop and is a nice but rather unnecessary tonic to this most heart-wrenching of Hollies albums. Still, anybody with more than a soft spot for the band’s gentler pop singles will love it, especially Hicks’ gorgeous sighing guitar licks that link each verse and chorus and the perfectly rounded melody-line that runs smoothly between the song’s many sections. Another Clarke-Sylvester collaboration, it’s interesting to note that this writing team make for not only the fiercest Hollies tracks (see Man Without A Heart) but also the most gentle tracks recorded in this period.
Perfect Lady Housewife goes in quite the opposite direction, a playful Clarke-Sylvester rocker that sounds more 50s than 70s. A rather dated lyric about a hard-working housewife who keeps ‘everything in its place and a place for everything’ is complemented by a contrasting swampy, murky sound that is only just being kept in control throughout and suggests that, far from being naturally tidy, the housewife is doing her best to sort out order from the chaos raging in her head. The truly childish chorus (‘ABCD, yeah that’s the way it’s got to be yeah’) ought to be the song’s undoing, but a perfectly placed mix rescues the song by putting Elliott’s drums, Calvert’s second claustrophobic bass on the record and Hick’s staccato rhythm guitar-work to the fore, raising the tension considerably so that when this nonsense chorus finally makes its overdue appearance, it sounds like the sun coming out. A fine group performance embellishes a rather odd song, which might have been a killer album track with better lyrics but is at least sung with gusto by the Hollies’ three singers.
Confessions Of A Mind (notice the subtle difference in title there) is by contrast to the last track one of the most complex pieces the Hollies ever did. A four-part Hicks epic about the torment going on in the narrator’s head, debating about whether to break away from his current love to a new relationship he can feel is beginning or not, its easy to see the parallels here with the whole problem raised by Nash’s departure: do the Hollies ride out copying their old successes that they’ve always done so well with or reach out to try something new that might not suit them? As if to mirror the quandary going on in the band, this song throws everything into the mix: a typical Hollies ballad in the beginning, it works it’s way up to thumping 70s stadium rock (by far the best section thanks to one of Hicks’ career-best guitar solos letting rip in grand style near the end), ambitious orchestral social protest and finally back again into a typically Hollies pop creation to round things off. It’s as if the band are saying ‘ we’re just going to stick with what we know’ after five exhilarating minutes where they prove that they can do anything they like. Notably, Hicks ends this rather downbeat song on a positive note, embracing his old love with open arms with the message ‘she deserves to be loved, she’s the one for you’, as if to welcome back the band’s pop past. It’s a shame, though, that the Hollies did more or less embrace the ‘old’ after this song because, even though the track is just a little too fragmented to work as well as it should, hearing the Hollies tackle a song this ambitious is fascinating and if only a qualified success in the end, it’s still a darn sight more successful than most things being written in the period. At 5:40, it’s also by far the longest track the Hollies had recorded up to that point – indeed, barring 1978’s 6:05 When I’m Yours (from 5317704) it’s the longest track the Hollies ever released, barring re-mixes and 12” versions. Johnnie Scott’s orchestration is again the star of this song, making the rest of the band sound either unbearably poignant with some film score-type string playing or playful and exciting in the middle section.
After such lofty ambition, the band start side two in a very understated manner. Lady Please is a quietly rocking song from Hicks with quite a swing behind it, especially when those three-part harmonies kick in fully. A simple and moving tale of the narrator reflecting on the years he spent trying to chase after the girl of his dreams and how in love they still are even now but how he still can’t quite believe she is his, its reserve is typically Hollies – especially give the way that ‘not a man of many words’ Hicks lets his true feelings shine through his guitar work. Yet there’s an element of doubt going on in the song’s classic middle eight (repeated twice for added effect) where the narrator, glad for the time he’s already spent with his girl, asks her not to lie to him if she finds someone better, that he will understand if she leaves – while the intensity of the harmonies and backing track make it clear that the narrator is putting on a brave face and would in fact be devastated if she went. Another of this album’s songs about moving on, its intriguing hearing this song from the opposite end of the spectrum, with the narrator this time the partner being wronged, in his own mind at least. Most Hollies tracks end strongly, in contrast to their 60s contemporaries who tend to use fades or medleys, and this album and this track in particular is a good example, turning up the drama a notch in the way the Hollies harmonies reach for the heavens to end this song, cutting through the song’s understated power for the sudden burst of emotion the narrator has been trying to express for the last three minutes. Clear, straightforward and punchy, Lady Please seems a world away from the track we’ve just heard and is one of the album’s quiet highlights.
Frightened Lady is more of the same understated emotion from Hicks, but its lyrics are more wordy and, well, Dylanesque than usual (did this song come before the Dylan covers album the year before? Or vice versa?) and it also sounds vaguely threatening again, a technique the band hadn’t used this often since their psychedelic days. It’s also the latest in a long line of anti-war songs the Hollies did, a theme that is about to reach its zenith on the next album Distant Light which is virtually a we’re-all-gonna-die-unless-we-find-peace epic in the CSN mode. Even Nash would never have written such a simple, melodic chorus as this, however, or the tension-building middle eight and guitar solo that underpin the threat of the gentle verses. A weary, head-shaking song about trying to understand what is going on in a rather crazy world, the song even ends on a very CSN-ish note: ‘if we don’t get together pretty soon’ sings Clarke ‘we’ll do the same thing on the moon’ (cue the lunar cocktail sausages on the cover of CSN’s Live It Up perhaps?) The track then ends on the sudden relentless march of so-called ‘progress’ which, in contrast to what I’ve just said about the last track, does fade and sounds like it will march on forever. This sound might represent our never-changing future, accompanied by a bright and breezy but fruitless piccolo that can dance all it likes but ultimately can’t escape the claustrophobia of the rest of the track, or it might just be a pretty section of music that went well with the first half of the song. Whatever the intention, this is moving stuff.
Too Young To Be Married is the album’s standout track and should be studied in classes for songwriting technique; the song’s eerie atmosphere and its detailed lyrics are created with the minimum of fuss, but the emotion is so obviously brimming below the surface in yet another variation on the ‘Hollies reserved emotions’ technique. Featuring another of Hicks’ young lonely housewives, looking after the children all her friends and relations told her she shouldn’t have, she softens the blow of her trapped young life with thoughts of getting away from it all – but knows that such thoughts are un-realistic and that she will keep on plodding forward anyway despite what she says. The powerhouse chorus that suddenly surges up out of nowhere 90 seconds into the song merely underlines the song’s tag line about the young pregnant mum – what else could the couple do? Things ought to be better, but that’s the way its got to be.’ Clarke as ever gets right behind the song just as he does whenever there’s more than a modicum of emotion involved, sounding trapped but wearily resigned to his fate throughout - especially given the very obvious love still between the partners in the song - and Hick’s melancholy Spanish guitar solo is exactly the sort of daydream-like interlude the song needs to let the listener catch their breath. What is there not to like about this perfectly crafted track? Social comment at its most mind-bogglingly moving; not patronising in its how-did-you-come-to-this scenario, not promising anything it can’t deliver, not even preaching how things can be improved, just telling things the way they are and quietly sighing at the result. A close cousin of the contemporary single Gasoline Alley Bred, this is bleak social protest at its best, with this tale of being trapped by circumstances laced with just enough warmth and sympathy to work (** see notes 3). This song has long been a Hollies fan favourite, for good good reason and deserves to be better known than just an album track in this country. The band at their very best.
Clarke’s Separated sounds like a bit of anticlimax after Married, but it still sports a fine, almost oriental-sounding tune (another old favourite Hollies device that created some of their better 60s album tracks and some frantic drumming (and shrieking) from Bobby Elliott. A huge contrast to the last few tracks, this song is all about grabbing the listener by the ears, even though there’s not much happening when you dip below the surface. The song suddenly comes alive on the brief middle eight which yet again lets the hidden emotion of the song peek through the surface (‘was it something that I said?’...) An interesting experiment, that leaves the listener perhaps a little too un-involved or even separated from the soul of the song.
I Wanna Shout wraps things up for another album with a last tale of emotion hiding behind a pokerfaced façade. This Clarke-Sylvester song nudges a bit too far into the gauche atmosphere of parts of Hollies Sing Hollies (the clichéd organ lick doesn’t help), but its repetitive lyrics are at least a clever twist on this album’s themes – the two characters are in love but, rather than hide the fact from each other, they are hiding the fact from their friends and family and this time around the emotion the couple are trying to hide is one of joy, not sorrow. Featuring Terry’s first (brief) lead vocal for the band on the first verse (on album at least—he’s featured on contemporary single Gasoline Alley Bred too), it’s a return to the pop formula of old, but with enough good things going for it to make it a worthy farewell. Elliott finds yet another variation on his ear-grabbing drum patterns, the three-part harmonies reach up to Hollies heaven and the band show off their telepathic band skills. Magic stuff.
Confessions, then, is a rounded, mature, cleverly sequenced album and the closest the band ever came to a ‘concept’ album with its emphasis on doubts, dilemmas and hidden feelings. Those bedsitter, frustrated-at-life moments will never be the same again once you’ve bought this LP. And it grows with you – along with Butterfly and the Beatles’ output it was about the first record I got to know inside, outside, upside down and backwards and its never once failed to transport me somewhere or teach me something new whenever I play it. What better reason for buying an album could there be? Confessions of a mind? Celebration more like.