Monday, 27 July 2015

Lindisfarne "Elvis Lives On The Moon" (1993) (Very Revised Review!)




Lindisfarne "Elvis Lives On The Moon" (1993)

Day Of The Jackal/Soho Square/Old Peculiar Feeling/Mother Russia/Demons/Don't Leave Me Tonight/Elvis Lives On The Moon/Keeping The Rage/Heaven Waits/Spoken Like A Man/Think!

"With a gun at their heads they died on their knees"

Rather eerily, Alan Hull's last album with Lindisfarne before his untimely death in 1995 (where he died of a heart attack after returning home from a party held to celebrate bassist Rod Clement's birthday) is a half-concept album about making the most of your time before it slips away from you. Rather thankfully, it's a much more fitting place to say goodbye than any of the past few comparatively dodgy albums would have been. With founding members Jacka now gone (he'd jumped ship in 1990 as he was making more money representing Guinness than he ever was with the band without writing royalties and he was getting tired of the intense travelling from one job to another; a drunken Hull one night effectively forced him into leaving before he was ready although it was only a matter of time before Jacka would have been forced to choose one or the other) and Si preparing to leave as soon as the album and tour were over (he retired from music to run a pub) there's more of Hully's usual good sense and quiet anger here than ever before (we so sorely miss him today - I'd love to have heard his condemnation of David Cameron). So much so that at times this sounds like a Hull solo album (with a couple of Clements and Craggs songs tacked on to it) with the same 'feel' as Hully's solo records which tended to be more political and weirder animals than the Lindisfarne collections. So much of this album burns with his sense of injustice and outrage, the band 'keeping the rage' as one of the songs puts it as Hull rips into modern life with every fibre in his body: the credit crunch in the western world, the crumbling of the soviet empire and the poverty it left behind, the innocent prisoners trapped in a 'lonely cell', the modern desire for people to grow up too fast. Some writers tend to get softer with age - but Hully's songs kept getting tougher and his latest crop (including both this album and his ultimately unfinished solo album 'Statues and Liberties' recorded soon after this record) are some of his best, full of the wit and courage and passion of old. Alan Hull hasn't had this much to say in a decade and he has more space to say what's on his mind than usual. Suddenly the likes of 'C'mon Everybody' and 'Dance Your Life Away' seem like a bad dream.

That's the good news about this record. But before you get too excited about 'Elvis' being a better-than-average Alan Hull album it also simultaneously makes for quite a frustrating Lindisfarne listening experience. Reading between the lines of the interviews made at the time and for the excellent 'Fog On The Tyne' biography it doesn't seem to have struck anyone that Jacka was going to be that big a loss to the band. Lindisfarne had had Marty Cragg in the band since 1984, principally a sax player but also a vocalist who'd been taking on more and more of the vocal work as Jacka's interest waned. Marty does indeed have an excellent voice and might well have established the same sort of following as his predecessor had he joined the band at the same time - but there's the small problem of the fact that his voice now sounds so different to Jacka's that it's done something weird to the harmonies. Not that there are many across the album anyway - Jacka's loss also means that this is the first Lindisfarne album not to have any mandolin anywhere, although it's role in the band had been shrinking across the past few LPs. Though Si's distinctive electric guitar bursts are all over this record (with Steve Daggett's keyboards gone, he gets more to do than he has for a long time too), he's all but inaudible on the vocals (and doesn't get a 'farewell' song either sadly!) That leaves just one of the band's three distinctive vocalists - Alan - centrestage, with a few solo spots from Marty, with barely any harmonies at all across the album (though I think I can still hear Jacka's distinctive tones on older song 'Mother Russia'). This is a major blow, like asking The Byrds to record without Roger McGuinn's jingly-jangly rickenbacker, getting Liam Gallagher to sing a song with the word 'sunshine' which isn't pronounced 'sun-shee-iiiine' or asking The Spice Girls for a discussion of their musical and social beliefs; it's just a waste of what they're there to do. Ask any music-fan in the street what Lindisfarne were all about back in the day and they'd have answered in no particular order 'pints of Newcastle brown ale' 'Elizabethan ladies' 'fogs on bridges' 'sausage rolls' 'corners' 'Geordie accents' (why-aye man, that had to be there!) and the band's distinctive sweet-and-sour harmonies (of course, depressingly, if you ask someone today you'll either get a blank stare or the line 'weren't they Paul Gascoigne's backing band?!' I despair sometimes...) Anyway, without Jacka's instinctive understanding of pop and Si's eccentric edge all we get is Hull's passionate 'sour' without the 'sweet'. To add insult to injury, Ray Laidlaw is continuing to play the drums as if he's an 80s drum machine automaton instead of the characteristic 'feel' player he should be and Rod Clements' bass-lines are so of the time you half expect him to get up and moonwalk. Though Hull's songs can just about get away with this (he did after all sing solo occasionally with the band throughout their history), the Craggs and Clements songs sound alien, without any distinctive Lindisfarne features despite their obvious worth. Fine album as 'Elvis' undoubtedly is - and an improvement as it marks on the immediate predecessors - it's not exactly a fine 'Lindisfarne' album.

That's a shame because there's so much the 'old' band sound could have done with this album. Lindisfarne were lucky (or unlucky depending how you look at it) to be one of the first English bands to play behind the iron curtain after communism fell in 1989. Most of the bands who went in the immediate aftermath of the fall tended to be pure American capitalists, putting on big shows with lots of lighting and dancing - everything that the Russian world had been told to expect from Westerners. After so many generations of deprivation they seemed to come from another world. However after the glitz and glamour wore off many of the original Soviet empire music-goers fell for bands like Lindisfarne who came with a much smaller and cosier repertoire and passed their music off more like the town criers of old spreading news between empires than a capitalist adventure and media soundbite. Though the Geordie accents must surely have been a challenge for a country that didn't know much English, music can reach out across language barriers in a way that words never can and Lindisfarne were a major hit that year, more 'real' than a lot of the other bands they'd have been introduced to and whose music would be likely to linger after they'd gone home compared to the U2s and Motley Crues. Hull was surely a communist (however small the 'c') - money is the issue behind many of his most depressed and outraged songs and he really feels the pain of those forced to do without while fatcats 'split their face with grins' and the people in the audience who 'understood' English enough to hear songs like 'Dan The Plan' 'City Song' 'Winter Song' 'We Can Swing Together' 'Cruisin' To Disaster' and 'Stormy Weather' would have 'understood' them at a deeper level too. Lindisfarne really pulled together across the tour, which was a great boost for morale on stage however troubled they were backstage.

The 'discussion' went both ways though. An artist as sensitive and outraged as Alan Hull couldn't help but be outraged at what he saw away from the concert stage. The people who went to the band's concerts had so very little, even less than it had seemed from the outside looking in and the scared faces trumped even those back home in the Thatcherite 80s (John Major taking power more or less at the time this record was released). Many 'Russian' songs poured from Hully in this period (although interestingly perhaps the most overtly Russian-centred song 'Day Of The Jackal' was actually written as early as 1983 and re-recorded for this album) and describe the terrible poverty he saw around him on tour. Realising that he has a 'duty' to tell the people back home what he's seen, Hully doesn't know where to start ('It isn't easy to explain!') but conjures up tales of a proud people crushed by the weight of a way of life they've been taught not to challenge and how they barely understand any other way of life anymore. Hull is quick to praise the art that's flowed out of this sense of depravation but argues that 'no Tolstoy, no Tchaikovsky gonna get you out of this!' 'Day Of The Jackal' is Hull at his mocking best, making the world 'dance the berserker' as beserkly as he can and takes on the role of a twelve-year-old made to grow up too fast, a gun his only weapon against a world out to get him. 'Mother Russia' is a sad ballad about the wrongs that Hull can't put right and the memorable line that 'history is bunkum' - that too people suffered for what, in the end, turned out to be nothing.

'Keeping The Rage' is a more general Hull song about injustice but is about reaching out to the oppressed everywhere that must surely have come from his travels too. 'Demons' too have 'the dance of the dead' as they prowl first a town and then the inside of Hull's head, the singer unable to get the images out of his mind's eye. Marty and Rod's 'Heaven Waits' mirrors the theme, sighing over the faults of both capitalism and communism and commenting on the ordinary person's struggles to change anything - 'This is the way of the world, this is the way it goes' is the sad and desperate chorus, reflecting the helplessness of the crowds Lindisfarne played to. Perhaps the best of the songs on the subject though is Hull's album highlight 'Spoken Like A Man' in which he charts how people on both sides of the iron curtain have been 'brainwashed' into believing that only one way of life exists, 'childish minds that have been distorted' and turned into a cynical adult world view. Hull is having none of it, rejecting everything he's learnt as an adult and of being trained to 'speak like a man' and challenging the idea that mankind is wiser from experience. Final track 'Think' then rounds off the album with a cry for people to consider other people's opinions more and see past the 'lies' they're told - as fitting a final Hull message as you could wish for, although there is a standalone Lindisfarne single to come yet. Returning to Russia one last time, Hull sighs that 'your mother's dying consider why' but he's worried about the impact of Americanisations on the former empire, warning too that 'your sons are lying'. Hully has clearly had more than a few sleepless nights after the band's Russian tour. Throughout ticks a clock timing out the people who couldn't be saved and died from their poverty, the challenges of restoring Government to a people who have known another way of life and perhaps even the time until Russia and her empire become just another branch of the Western world. The Day of the Jackal is now - but worse is to follow if someone doesn't do something soon. Alas nobody appears to hear the cries and put things right, making 'Elvis' one of Lindisfarne's most overtly depressing albums - in great contrast to the last three (which could have done with taking themselves and their legacy a bit more seriously to be honest!)

Elsewhere this is an album with a rather odd feel. 'Soho Square' at least fits, an 'English' version of Hull's Russian songs with Hull 'meeting on the corner' a London prostitute and being dazzled by all the fake glitz and glamour - a 'clown from a Northern town' as Hull puts it completely out of his depth (it's this song's anti-capitalist rant to go alongside the anti-communist ones). But the rest of the album sounds like it's come in from a different record entirely: Rod's 'Old Peculiar Feeling' set the tone for the two Lindisfarne albums still to come, a nostalgic acoustic song that's at one with 'Ghost In Blue Suede Shoes' and 'Rock and Roll Phone' as an old trooper prepares to re-create his old past-times; Hull's 'Don't Leave Me Tonight' is one of his occasional 'pure' romantic songs of the sort Jacka would have been superb on a few years before; the deeply odd title track throws in references to Nostradamus, Uri Geller and Tutankhamen's curse and seems to suggest that mankind has a passion for the weird and strange (compare with Belle and Sebastian's 'A Century Of Elvis' in which the singer is re-incarnated as a dog!) It's as if Lindisfarne were trying to make a 'normal' album and were trying to hide all the more controversial 'Russian' references - so successfully that many fans don't seem to realise what this album is really all 'about'.

Talking of not understanding what things are all about, the album cover has to be one of the weirdest Lindisfarne ever made (in fact it's a point worth making that the better the Lindisfarne album cover the worse the albums tend to be and vice versa - I have a soft spot for 'Dingly Dell' despite the cardboard sleeve, 'Nicely Out Of Tune' and 'Fog On The Tyne' sound like classics but don't necessarily look it, while I love 'Sleepless Nights' for every reason but the revealing album cover, honest - by contrast 'Dance Your Life Away' looks great and sounds ghastly). On the front cover a spaceship seems to have crash-landed into a junkyard, with the back sleeve showing the now five-piece Lindisfarne squatting on old rubber tyres and abandoned hunks of metal. It's an arresting image, but not necessarily one suited to the more black-and-white horror-world of the album (although you could argue that the 'sparks' signify some hope I guess or - stop press as I've only just thought of this after years of playing this album - the sheer extravagance and waste of the Russian Government spending a fortune on the space race while her 'children' are left abandoned on the scrapheap! I take it back, unless of course that's just a convenient coincidence). Still don't see what it has to do with Elvis living on the moon, though (we could have had a 'Blue Moon of Kentucky' and everything!)

Overall, then, 'Elvis' is a flawed step in the right direction for Lindisfarne. There are many excellent moments here, with Alan Hull going back to basics and tapping into the source of rage and depth that he used to bring to the Lindisfarne party. Great as the poppier side of the band with Jacka was, his absence offers the band an excellent chance to go down a whole new route as a 'protest' band and we haven't heard Hull this moved for this long since for a whole shelf-full of LPs. The rest of the band are right with him too, with Rod's songs, Marty's singing, Si's stinging guitar and Ray's sturdy drumming alongside the album's unsung hero Kenny Craddock (from the 'Lindisfarne Mark II' line-up) who adds a much softer, subtler keyboard sound than Steve Daggett's more in-yer-face style (it's a shame he didn't join the band full time, but then he was rather busy playing with a whole host of Newcastle bands in this era). He also produced the album alongside engineer and bass player Steve Cunningham. However there's still something slightly lacking about this album that prevents it being the truly must-have reunion album the band so badly needed right now with members leaving left right and centre. The songs are great but they're not all great, with a handful that not only don't fit but aren't worth fitting in anywhere anyway. The production sound is less off-putting than the recent run of CDs but it's still from vintage Lindisfarne. The lack of an extra 'voice' - in both vocal and compositional senses - rather unbalances the record, so that all we get is Hull's sudden veers from detached to emotional wreck; thrilling as these moments are it gets tiring across a full album with so little else to dilute the sound out. Marty Craggs is an excellent vocalist but his vocals are so different to anything we've had before (even on 'Amigoes' he tended to sing the 'most' Lindisfarne tracks and was surrounded by harmonies so we didn't notice) that you'd be hard pressed to recognise any of his three songs as Lindisfarne (I often find myself checking in puzzlement when these songs come up on my mp3 player's 'shuffle'). Most unforgivable though is the  lack of harmonies - even lots of Hulls and Craggs multi-tracked would have sounded better than nothing. It's sad that Si seems to have disappeared before the vocal sessions took place preventing us from one last great Lindisfarne hurrah. As things will turn out, the band will even lose this album's biggest link with their past in Alan Hull whose songs and vocals are the powerhouse behind this album and the main creator of most of the album's highlights and will sound very different again by the time the band next re-groups in five years' time for the under-rated 'Here Comes The Neighbourhood'. However by then the band will know where they're going and where they stand, with Rod Clements the safe pair of writing hands and Jack The Lad colleague Billy Mitchell adding a familiar vocal style. That album bears almost nothing in common with this one (even Marty doesn't get a chance to do much!) but what both albums have in common is a sense of being 'nearly' where the band need to be during a dark and difficult time in the band's development, both a little further down the road to the quality they left behind around 1982 than they've been for a while if not quite as far down the road as fans would like. However, after a patchy period, it's a relief to have the band simply back in the same solar system as where they began - and that's close enough, after all, when Elvis lives on the moon.

'Day Of The Jackal' sets the tone for much of the album to come, although it's actually an older song first written for Hull's 1983 solo album 'On The Other Side', Hull's original was sparser and less produced, more of your usual outraged rock song, but Lindisfarne's re-recording is an epic, full of dancing balalaikas, Russian fiddles and keyboard swirls. Though at the time was written Hull hadn't been anywhere near Russia, he'd clearly been keeping a close eye on the press reports of what was happening during the cold war (trust Hull to take up the 'other side' - the album is full of songs like this, notably Argentina in The Falklands War, although this is the only 'Russian' song). Hull's usual sensitive eye for suffering and anger at this causing it make for a fascinating song full of danger and skull-duggery, perhaps inspired by the Frederick Forsyth novel of the same name only this time instead of fictional spies plotting down to overthrown a French Government, it's a real story of real Russian leaders damaging themselves. Once communism used to be about solidarity and equality - but here it means that nobody has anything anymore. Hull takes the part of a twelve-year-old boy named David whose been made to grow up too fast, known locally as 'Billy The Kidd' for his knowledge of guns (note the comparison of American gangsters, turned into folk heroes, with Russian ones we're meant to 'despise' in the West). We then switch to Ishmael from Beirut, watching his Russian dissenting parents pay for speaking out with their lives (has there ever been a more chilling line than Hull's 'with a gun at their heads they died on their knees?', their bowing subservience to a greater power outraging Hull almost as much as their needless deaths. themselves). He doesn't want pity though - he knows how to shoot, uncaring for his own safety now that he's the only family member left. A third verse has Hull as God, no less ('or Allah if you choose') causing 'despair, destruction and abuse' as wars are fought in his name and he does nothing to stop the humans he created 'tearing apart' the lands named in his honour. Throughout it all sufferers everywhere are made to 'dance the beserker', a pun on both the dance 'mazurka', with poverty-stricken peasants everywhere under the gun of a Government who makes them fight other poverty-stricken peasants, all praying to a different Lord to allow them to live together. Back in 1983 this was a clever ahead of its time song about social injustice and Hull sings it well, but now that he's seen the suffering of at least the Russians mentioned in this song Hull's vocal is ice-cold, exploding with quiet fire as everyone is damned and nobody can stop the mad dance that's causing it. Often Hull's atheist-bordering-on-religious songs like 'Clear White Light' conclude with the idea that mankind can live together if enough people demand it - but this time his plea that 'we can live together somehow' sounds desperate and hopeless. The epic production perhaps tries a bit too hard to make what is really a simple rocker sound like it's being fought on the world arena, but the band performance is a good one, with Cowe's guitar wrapped around a terrific Ray Laidlaw drum part that's manic and insistent, while Hull's delicious vocal is just the right side of theatrical. One of the better songs on the album, although the simpler 1983 version probably still has the edge.

'Soho Square' is another song that might have been quite lovely without all that OTT production full of synths and saxophones (plus what have they done to Rod's bass? He sounds like he's just strutted in from a disco album!) although the production again adds a grandeur and mystery to the song. The song is another one of Hull's which sounds like it's recalling his first trip to London and his first trip away from Newcastle anywhere, lost in a land much bigger than anything he can comprehend. For all the scale of the surroundings, however, Hull is appalled at how many people are going without - the sheer scale of the homeless on the streets and the prostitution racket on the street corners. 'You look good enough to eat' is Hull's leery chat-up line, but he discovers to his horror that food is not a good comparison, that these aren't good-time girls but people who would starve without selling their bodies (the sexual innuendo of 'nothing's passed my lips in a week' turned into a sad statement on hunger). A shocked Hull thinks 'pretend you haven't heard' and walks away with his head 'ready to explode' over what he's seen. It's a sad tale that again, unusually for Hull, has no twist to make it better or take the sting away - this is a world that's messed up beyond the point where he can do much about it. The song is worth putting back into a historical context - though today we think we're the only ones to suffer a credit crunch, the one in the early 1990s was as sharp and biting as anything we've had recently, though it was repaired a bit quicker than the current one in Britain at least (mainly because the Conservative party didn't spend good money on bad ideas as they are doing now). It's perhaps key that Hull should set this song in London - his only London based song as far as I know - rather than his usual Newcastle setting: these are people who drifted to England's capital in search of a better life and with big ideas without knowing the state was about to spit them out. While there have sadly always been homeless much everywhere at almost every era, they do tend to peak in London during times of crisis with high rents and so on and usually represent people who've fallen from bigger heights than the poverty everyone shared to some extent back in Newcastle. In context too this is a madder, sadder 'Meet Me On The Corner', taking place on a similar junction, only this time the dream-seller has been replaced by prostitutes trying to scrape a living (compare with 'Jubilee Corner' from the next LP too) - the contrast between dreams and survival couldn't be greater. Though the melody could have been sharper and Marty's sax is a tad intrusive, Hull's lyrics are once again moving, reflecting not just the pain of those he meets but his confusion and frustration at not having a solution anymore. We could have done without the verse about him having 'my hands in my pants and doing a little dance' though!

Rod's much more gentile 'Old Peculiar Feeling' features a rollicking good riff and a nice vocal from Marty, while the lyrics represent the first in a sequence of acoustic songs about Rod remembering where his career started. Clements has often written about his career with other metaphors thrown in - 'Don't Ask Me' is his angry attempt to deflate the press' expectations and 'Fast Lane Driver' a metaphor for him being driven off the road after Lindisfarne's split, handing over the wheel to a new group of motorist-musicians. The song is sweet, comparing the 'feeling' Rod gets seeing his wife in middle age reminding him of their older dating days and in a wider sense his music, a 'feeling' that lets him know it's time to write and tour again. The two halves of the song combine when 'a certain song from way back when' is played, with music the biggest instant reminder of times past. However strong as this song is it doesn't fit the album that well - it's gentle reminders of times gone by doesn't fit this hard mad world of cold jagged edges and the fact that there is nothing in keeping with any sound on the last two songs (there's no Hull on this one, just Marty and the sound is predominantly acoustic guitars and Rod's fiddles, not keyboards and drums) makes it sound very much like the odd one out. Ironically for a song about timing, it's this that lets the song down - had the 'old' Lindisfarne done this with their old harmonies and Jacka on lead (this song would have suited him down to the ground!) then it might have been an album highlight - instead it just doesn't quite work somehow.

'Mother Russia' is a song that's been splitting fans ever since it came out. Hull's clearly been reading a bit too much 'War and Peace' as he tries to make this song an epic of mammoth proportions, complete with nearly six minute running time, some spacey Kenny Craddock classical piano, a fiddle part and an accordion. However this is one of those songs that's better kept simple and a lick faster - Hull's solo live performances of this (as captured on 1994 CD 'Back To Basics', again with Craddock on piano) are far superior somehow and it's a much better song than a recording Lindisfarne give it here. The lyrics you see carry enough grandeur on their own - Hull is trying nothing less than summing up the entire mad seventy-two years of Russian history between the October Revolution of 1917 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Though many casual commentators assume that communist Russia was always corrupt in any era, left-wing socialist Hull knows that isn't too - that the contemporary Russia of scared peasants supporting tyrannical dictators is not how things started. Instead 'Lenin lies stately', a relic rather than an active creator of society, while 'Karl' (Marx) is a 'forgotten man'. Hull finally speaks out against Stalinist Russia without fear of reprisal by saying 'Joseph played his cards wrong because he didn't understand' - Stalinist Russia was a dictatorship, not the communist equality paradise envisioned by Lennin, Marx and Trotsky. The inequality and injustice really hurts Hull who sings from the heart that 'your sadness tears my heart out'. Though many Russians greeted the influences of the Western world, Hull depicts the capitalist influence as equally wicked and corrupt, a 'rat race coming to get you' rather than a chance for peace and prosperity for everyone. Hull depicts the speed with which Americanisations were greeted (many pressmen said that they knew the soviet empire had truly fallen when the first McDonalds opened in Moscow) as a 'Judas Kiss' that cannot be reversed and fears what will happen to the 'fields of rapture' and beauty that Hull walks through on tour. Hull makes good use of the idea of 'Mother Russia' too - because a mother is exactly what the broken and splintered country he sees really needs, caring and sharing not fighting and biting. Hull's lyrics is expressive, full of poetic touches that reach back to great Russian writers and his own sense of sadness at a once great nation brought to her knees all because the original concept of a nation working for the greater good of all her people has been subverted into an even bigger divide between rich and poor than the West. Unfortunately much of that good work is undone by one of Lindisfarne's weaker band performances - Hull's vocal is all over the place, the  tempo is too slow and there's just too much going on in this arrangement. Instead we should be concentrating on the bare basics like the words and melody - the band could have done with paying more attention to the song's lyrics and the sense that being big and powerful doesn't necessarily mean being better.

'Demons' is a rather odd Hull song, a track that goes back to his deliberately ugly sound of writing. It's hard to know whether this song is meant to be a comedy or a tragedy, as Hull depicts a group of demons who 'twist and shout' their way through the world and get into people's mind and then make them do the cruellest things. The theme is 'what's wrong is right' and Hull reprises his 'oh mamma' cry from 'Mother Russia' as he cries out for someone to put it right. There's a hint too that these demons are really the little black dog of depression, gnawing away even inside the naturally happy mind of Alan Hull ('inside my head is where I hang my happiness!'), leaving him 'messages' on his cerebral answer-phone and leaving him trapped, pleading 'get me out of this mess!' It's nice to hear Lindisfarne returning to their harder, bluesier-edged sound for the first time in a while, but they've usually had stronger than this to sing and again the rather overcooked production full of gimmicky effects gets in the way of what would have sounded better recorded simply and quietly. The guitar riff is a good one though and it's great to hear Si Cowe dusting off his telecaster one last time with a punchy sound that sounds like he's been sticking knitting needles in his speaker cabinet a la Dave Davies.

The weakest song on the album is probably Hull's passionate ballad 'Don't Leave Me Tonight'. Normally this would be the 'Jacka' song on the album, cosy and romantic but as good as Marty's vocal is he's not as natural a 'fit' for a song like this. Hull's song is full of his characteristic harmonic sequences and chord changes, but it's a bit one-dimensional by his standards - like the over-simplistic ballads 'Make Me Want To Stay' and much of his 'Phantoms' record without the usual sting in the tales or any emotion except love. The narrator doesn't want his loved one to leave just yet and although he knows its futile and the winds of change are blowing through his windows  he's still in denial. And that's about it really. There aren't even many harmonies this time around sadly, with Hull inaudible on his own song which comes across just like any other simple pop song from any other era. At least this time the production techniques add a certain something to the album, though, with a combination of parping saxes, held organ notes, a synth riff that sounds like a doorbell and some more lovely guitar work at least making this sound good, if a bit too much like every other pop song around in 1993 (if this had been released with a 'Meatloaf' or a 'Bryan Adams' credit I've have quite believed it).

Title track 'Elvis Lives On The Moon' is, on the other hand, a bit too wildly adventurous. An oddball surreal song that mentions Nostradamus, Uri Geller and Tutankhamen's Tomb alongside a chorus that simply consists of the title. What is Hull getting at here? Well, it seems to be a love song first and foremost about how whatever weird life events are due to happen the narrator and his lover will get through them if they're together. But it also seems to be saying that the world is becoming a 'weird' place in 1993, full of so many things happening behind the scenes that have come to light (it might be related to the press reports from  behind the iron curtain again, although apparently an early version of this song was being performed by Lindisfarne on stage before the Soviet collapse) that the weirder dismissed stuff might as well be true too. Hull has an 'open mind', even willing to believe that Elvis had merely returned to his home-world after his mission to help people fall in love ('If Elvis is any friend of mine, you'll be mine someday'). The rather weird lyric is somewhat undersold by the melody, however, which breezes in and out as if it's another contemporary atmospheric pop song with Hull singing as detached as can, as if he hasn't realised quite how weird the songs he's singing are. Some songs can work wonders by having the words and music do two different things at once, but neither half of this song is quite as good as it ought to be - the lyrics are mildly strange and confusing rather than outrageously wacky and the melody is easy to singalong to when it's on but hard to remember when it's off. The decision to put Elvis on the moon of all places (when everyone knows he comes from Zigorous Three!) is also unexplained - 'moon' seems to have been chosen because it rhymes with 'Uri Geller bent a spoon' rather than for any artistic sense. This is by the way assuming that 'Elvis' really is 'Elvis' - the lyric is so vague Hull might as well be singing about Elvis Costello (whose really from Neptune) or even Elvis, the colleague of children's TV character Fireman Sam (whose wildly varying accent is closest to Geordie, funnily enough).

'Keeping The Rage' is another of the album's songs that out to sound great because all of the ingredients are there. The song is exactly what Lindisfarne should have been doing - a catchy song about injustice that sums them up nicely - standing up 'for the man condemned in a lonely cell and a 'bird of prey in a gilded cage' and against the 'strong who beat the weak'. The title was strong enough to be the title of the band's 1990 tour and should by rights have been the alum title as it sums them up so well, stoking the fires with the latest turn of the knife in the wider world since their last album. However after his fine beginning Hull (with help from Marty) seems to have got a bit stuck. The 'I-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi' verse works well the first time we hear it, but by the fourth straight repeat of that alternated with the same chorus used five times you're longing for the song to do something else except just keeping on. If ever a song needed a middle eight, it's this one and Hull was usually a strong enough writer to know this (his middle eights are some of the best in the business) which makes this song all the more of a puzzle. While Hull's vocal is strong enough, the rest of the band sound comparatively unsure of this song and turn in a performance that's fair rather than fantastic - it's ironic really for a song titled 'Keeping The Rage' that the one thing missing from this song is a bit more 'rage'. Nice to hear some harmonica back in the band's sonic textures again, though, courtesy of Marty Craggs filling in for Jacka. The result is still a good song, but it ought to be great.

'Heaven Waits' was written by Rod and Marty - my guess would be that the distinctive unusual chord structure comes from Clements and the Dylanesque lyric, especially the chorus, comes from Craggs. Though the chorus sounds quite relaxed about it being 'the way of the world', the verse is far stronger with long lists of things that people want to 'know' about and perhaps the narrator's response to a singer. One song in particular has him 'stood on a corner, thinking on my feet', perhaps referring back to Rod's most famous creation and throws in the phrase 'you want to know about the future but don't know what to believe'. Unlike Hull though, who feels full of confusion and helplessness, Clements sounds like a mystic seer with all the answers (was this song even written 'for' his colleague?) - that if you want to know what the world has to offer you have to go and seek it out instead of sitting at home wondering. 'You want to know about tomorrow? You've got it all at your feet!' is Rod and Marty's mantra, with the uplifting chorus that 'heaven waits...for those who try' and is in the reach of all of us if we reach out in the direction that suits us best. Though this still doesn't sound much like Lindisfarne, with a very Dire Straits sound on Cowe's guitar and Marty singing solo for much of the song, at least what it does sound like is rather better than on some other tracks on the record this time around and both song and performance are amongst the stronger ones on the album.

The album highlight, however, is surely 'Spoken Like A Man'. The song is just so Lindisfarne on so many levels; half-mournful, half angry, slow burning and suddenly piercing, ramshackle blues and polished protest all at the same time and with a gloriously hypnotic chorus to boot. Starting like some native American tribal cry (with Marty on pan pipes), the contemporary production suddenly comes in from nowhere to disrupt his happy scene. Hull's best melody on the album has him going round and round in circles until the narrator is 'spat out' at the end and finds a release of a sort. That's all very in keeping with a song that's all about trying not to believe what you've told and decades of establishment brainwashing. Throughout our lives our 'childish minds have been distorted' and the 'dreams we'd die for' have been turned into 'tokens' given to us to keep us quiet in our quest to 'speak like a man'. The irony of this song being that we spend our lives trying to act wiser when being wiser means being more like we were when we started out, before the adult world distorted our ways of re-acting to the world. He struggles to remember the boy he was once was, so desperate to 'reach out to the sands' of time and grow up - when all he wants now is to be young again, to nbe nearer the 'truth' of how mankind is meant to behave.  Hull spends most of the verse sounding old before his time and under the weight of the world before finally snapping in the memorable chorus 'I just don't believe you!' Hull won't 'give a damn'; about how he's meant to act and whether he's meant to act grown up and responsible and only care about himself and not other people - he's seen through the smokescreen of how the world works and wants us to break our vows too. Though the impact is lessened through over-use the first time Hull hits into this chorus is a glorious moment, cutting through the claustrophobia of the track with a very Lindisfarne vow of difference and - at long last - the only real harmonies across the whole of the album. The bluesy backing could be better - there's too much going on with several guitar parts, plus keyboards and balalaikas pinging in and out - but the performance is a good one and the whole band sound as if they're on 'message' here and one of Hull's last recorded vocals are also some of his best. 'Listen!' he cries at the end, with one last go at breaking us out of our slumbers.

'Think!' he demands in the next song, the last on the album, which in many ways is a continuation (it even has the same 'new agey' opening, although this time the tribal Indians seem to have brought along a saxophone...) Hull addresses us as if he's Mother Nature herself, a lonely rock 'the third stone' from the sun and wondering why the people who live on her are so cruel. 'I gave you history, I gave you sons' she complains and wonders who'll look after her 'children' now that she is dying and unable to survive much longer. Waving us a sad goodbye, mother Earth dies before our ears with her last message to think about what we're doing to her. It's very much of its time this song, when ecology and environmental issues with the same sort of epic production costs as this one were all in vogue (remember Michael Jackson's 'Earth Song' from a year later? For the hope of your sanity we hope you don't...) despite the fact that the electric technology and man hours needed to make these songs probably cost quite a lot of natural resources anyway. It's not the best song on the subject, performed too slow with Hull's vocal going from a too-quiet whisper to a too-loud yell and the many effects are just too overbearing. The arrangement is nice though and needs another take rather than a re-invention: Marty's flute playing is lovely and his mournful sax playing is the best on the album as he and Craddock enter a competition to see who can sound the saddest. The lyrics too read better than they sound on the album - it's the rather one-note melody that lets this one down. Yes I bet you knew this was coming - 'Think' could have done with a bit more forethought.

Overall, then, 'Elvis Lives On The Moon' is a stronger-than-average album that is perhaps too patchy to match the best of what Lindisfarne can offer. It's a curious mix of the great (the emotion that's dripping throughout a majority of these songs, with Hull keeping the rage like never before) and the ghastly (the anti-sceptic production that means all of this emotion gets somewhat lost in translation). At times this can be infuriating with really promising songs sounding average and forgettable because of the way that they're made, although occasionally the arrangements and production techniques do come up trumps. If nothing else, this is an improvement on the last few albums when in truth there hasn't been much going on under the surface to pay attention to - at least this time Hull's creative spirit is beating strongly as the band's adventures in Russia give him a while new crusade to rally against and Lindisfarne's most crusading album in many a long year is all the better for it. Had the band had a bit longer to make this album, with a couple more top-notch songs, a slightly tweaked production style that's less of its time and had Jacka back in the band then 'Elvis' had the potential to be right up there with the classics of old. Unfortunately most fans coming to this won't hear the album's worth at first and instead get caught out by the detached performances, the lacklustre playing and the dated production values. However if we do what Hull tells us to - 'Listen!' and 'Think!' respectively - there's enough here of worth to keep Lindisfans happy. It's also a sadly fitting way for Hull to say goodbye to the band he'd been so much a part of, dominating the writing and vocal credits like never before and returning to the more aggressive radical sound of his early days whatever the rest of the band are doing. Lindisfarne will recover and they'll recover well, adding in the folkier elements from the 'Jack The Lad' days and much more of the acoustic sound and harmonies that this album lacks. However Alan Hull will leave a sizeable shaped hole for the rest of the band's career that few writers/singers could have matched, a difficulty exaggerated by the loss of the rest of Lindisfarne's front row too with Jacka already gone and Si about to join him. To some extent the 'real' Lindisfarne ends here - while to another extent it already ended before this record was even made. In all, not out of this world entirely, then, but other-worldly enough to get you to see Elvis for a visit - he lives on the moon you know!

Other Lindisfarne related articles fro this site you might be interested in reading:



'Here Comes The Neighbourhood' (1998) http://www.alansalbumarchives.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/lindisfarne-here-comes-neighbourhood.html



No comments:

Post a Comment