Monday, 24 March 2014
Born At The Right Time/Ghost In Blue Suede Shoes/Jubilee Corner/Can't Do Right For Doing Wrong/Working My Way Back Home/Wejibileng/Unmarked Car/Devil Of The North/Uncle Henry/One Day/Driftin' Through
What do you do when your lead songwriter, second singer and main focal point dies suddenly? Do you carry on singing their songs in their memory? Or do you call it a day to respect their memory? Thankfully it's not a question we've had to ask too often on this site (the Grateful Dead are the only other band to have the same problem and they deice to carry on under another name) but it's the question at the heart of this, Lindisfarne's 13th album. Alan Hull died of a heart attack in 1995, just as he was gearing up to finish his fourth solo album after falling poorly at his old pal Rod Clement's 50th birthday party. The rest of the band were already fearing that after 25 years Hully might go it alone if his solo album 'Statues and Liberties' finally broke big and had already agreed to make a band album without him if they had to although Alan had talked big before about a solo career that never quite took off. Fair enough you think - Hully would undoubtedly have wanted the band to continue without him and was half-expecting them to when he split for his solo career anyway. But this decision was made all the harder because Lindisfarne had only recently lost two other founding members, losing lead singer Ray 'Jacka' Jackson to spend more time on his 'second career' as a marketing agent (sadly a job that earned him far more money than Lindisfarne had in the past decade) and lead guitarist Simon Cowe to run a Canadian brewery (long discussed as the 'dream job' for Lindisfarne members if the band ever fell apart!) That means that, in the space of just seven years, the band had lost all three of their singers and their 'front line', with just the rhythm section of bassist Rod Clements and drummer Ray Laidlaw left from the 'old' band. Compare this album back to back with last album 'Elvis Lives On The Moon' (an album dominated by Hull like no other, as if to fill in the gap of the missing Jacka and departing Cowe) and it's hard to believe that it's by the same band - because in many ways it wasn't.
As a result, 'Neighbourhood' and its sequel 'Promenade' now seem like something of an unwanted encore, played to an audience that had largely gone home and weren't at all sure if Lindisfarne should continue. It wasn't meant that way of course: the plan was that this would simply be a new chapter in Lindisfarne's long and winding history Lindisfarne and that the band would run and run into the 21st century. Certainly there's nothing on this album that suggests the band are close to the end or that this is a last roll of the dice. Lindisfarne had been a career and a life for so long that nobody wanted to let the band name die and they felt, rightly in my eyes, that the best tribute to the sad loss of Hull was to keep on playing his songs. They also did everything they could to make the transition easier, recruiting old friend Billy Mitchell as their new lead singer and backup guitarist instead of some new hotshot fans wouldn't know- a sensible choice as anyone whose read one of our 'Jack The Lad' reviews will know and who effectively becomes Hull's replacement a second time; the first was when Lindisfarne split in two in 1972, Hull and Jacka keeping the name and the 'rock' part of LIndisfarne's folk-rock while the other three - Rod, Si and Ray - took on the 'folk' half of the old band's 'folk-rock'. Having all that shared background history - and a similar Geordie accent - makes the leap from hearing Jacka's and Hully's voice that much easier. Sensibly Lindisfarne decided to draw on everyone's strengths for this album, going in a much folkier direction than anything made under the Lindisfarne name and making 'Neighbourhood' sound more like the fifth Jack The Lad album than the 13th Lindisfarne release (this line-up of the band does share 75% of its DNA with that band as opposed to just 50% of the line-up who'd made the 'Elvis' album) after all. Some fans loved and some fans hated the change, which is certainly pretty striking if you're listening to these albums in order: 'Dance Your Life Away' 'Amigos' and 'Elvis...' are the most commercial sounding Lindisfarne albums of them all, as dated in time as any AAA albums from the late 1980s and early 1990s and seem to have been made through gritted teeth to some extent, that wonderfully loose and ramshackle but exciting Lindisfarne sound dressed up to sound 'proper' and posh.
While I'd have liked the band to have kept a bit more of their raw power for the 'Neighbourhood' record and a couple of electric tunes to shake up the 'feel' of the album wouldn't have gone amiss, I have to say that I love the 'new' acoustic sound of the 'Neighbourhood' record. Moving the band back to their folk roots gives this album an 'honest', maturer feel that the three records before it don't have and the three guitarists the band now have in the line-up have space to spar off each other which they would not have had with a more 'electric' sound (Billy, Rod - who hands over his bass duties for this record to new boy Ian Thomson to concentrate on his guitar - and Dave Denholm, the band's former guitar technician who had formally joined the group in the early 1990s but had yet to play on a Lindisfarne album; his presence here is particularly moving given that Hully thought of the younger guitarist as his 'protege' and Denholm in fact became Hull's son-in-law just before this album's release, marrying Alan's daughter Francesca - one of the little girls pictured on the inner sleeve of 'dad's first solo album 'Pipedream'). Many of the songs on this album are about aging and that's a theme that suits this record's folk ambience much better than if the band had pretended to be 'young' rock stars.
However, this new sound is a huge step for the band to make - with a new lead writer (Clements), new lead singer (Mitchell), new bassist (Thomson) and a new lead guitarist (Denholm) to get used to. Hedging their bets, the band sensibly decided to release an EP of new material first: the rare but well received 'Blues From The Brothy' EP in 1997 (containing 'Coming Home To You Blues' 'Refugee Blues' 'Ardnamurchan Blues' and a re-recording of the band's first B-side 'Knacker's Yard Blues' which, despite the titles, are more folk than blues). The band also released a live album 'Untapped and Acoustic' the same year which became very popular among fans and threw in some rare material like 'Bring Down The Government' and 'Passing Ghosts' as well as Denholm's eerily similar take on Hull's 'United States Of Mind'. The response amongst long-term fans was positive and so the band decided to take the leap with a full album with the same 'feel'. The question now was whether this new direction was enough to sustain the band across a whole album.
For me the answer is a positive 'yes'. In fact 'Neighbourhood' is a much better album than the three records that came before it - the lack of commercial synthesiser trappings, new band members going in new directions and a sense of theme and unity across the 'Neighbourhood' record make Lindisfarne Mark (gulp - quick check with Wikipedia...) Nine (!) sound a lot more inspired than the Lindisfarne of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Without Hull around the band could easily have got one of their 'new' band members to write all the songs, but no: the band deservedly promote 'second songwriter' Rod Clements to being the new songwriting focus of the band and many of his songs for this album are among his best work (although it's still a shame that he gives up his distinctive bass playing in this period, preferring to 'fill in' Cowe's previous role as a guitarist and drafting in Ian Thomson effectively as 'his' replacement; good as Thomson is he's quite a different player to Rod and this album more than almost any other AAA album ever needs all the continuity it can get). Having one main songwriter for eight of the eleven tracks is something the band always used to do in the Alan Hull days and if you'd come to this album first you wouldn't necessarily realise that Rod wasn't the main focus in the 'old' bands, with a couple of credits per album at most to his name: more than anyone else this album is a triumph for Rod Clements and it's great to hear the musician get so much space to shape his ideas. Understandably, though, Rod is not the writer Alan was: there's none of the band's characteristic 'moral outrage' which had been such a part of Hull's writing: we often compare albums back to back on this site and it's especially notable if you listen to this album alongside 'Amigos' and 'Elvis Lives On The Moon', perhaps Hully's most overtly political set of lyrics delivered to the band (his songs on these twin albums are all about 'keeping the rage'). The band were probably right to ignore it - Rod isn't really a 'social' writer in the same sense that Alan was - and yet the loss of that side of the band still leaves a rather large hole in the centre of the record that even some strong Rod Clements songs can't fill.
In retrospect, though, I'm surprised there aren't more attempts on this album to link the band with their 'old' sound. We've already discussed Rod's characteristic bass playing, which is replaced by his guitar and fiddle-work and which appeared only occasionally on Lindisfarne records. Marty Craggs, who'd effectively become Jacka's replacement in the late 1980s and who fans had already got used to hearing, is badly underused on this album and reading between the lines may well have resented losing out on the chance to become the band's de facto lead singer (this is his last album with the band, although he stays with them till the year 2000). What's strange is that, just two records ago - on 1988's 'Amigos' - the saxophonist was writing more songs for the band than Rod was! Worse still, there are precious few harmonies here - the one thing that many people first think of when it comes to Lindisfarne (well, after foggy days on Tyneside and Paul Gascoigne trying to sing anyway) That's despite the fact that Billy, Marty and Dave's voices go together amazingly well seeing that the pair hadn't worked together before this album, Marty's blusier voice sounding fine against Billy's weathered folk drawl and Denholm's audible similarity to Alan Hull. Alternatively why is there not more overdubbing of vocals, which only really occurs on 'Driftin' Through' and sounds pretty impressive to my ears?)Stranger still there's only two mandolin parts on this record (on 'Jubilee Corner', the one song here that sounds a little like 'old' Lindisfarne and 'Driftin' Through'): yes Jacka was the band's main mandolin player but Rod is a pretty fine player too as listening to 'Jubilee Corner' will attest. I can understand why parts of this record sound so different, why Hull's rage, Jacka's pop and Cowe's electric guitar are missing, but why throw out all those other key Lindisfarne sounds too? No wonder so many fans were unsure what to think when this album came out: great as it sounds, with some of the best Lindisfarne songs and performances since at least 'Sleepless Nights' in 1982, it doesn't sound like Lindisfarne. A little tweaking, a couple of extra songs and a bit more harmonies and mandolins and Lindisfarne might still be running now (they called it a day in 2003).
Still, if you can forget about what came before - a tall order I know - and have a penchant for acoustic folk then you'll still love much of this album (especially if you've always wondered what a more modern Jack The Lad album might sound like). What we're left with is still an interesting set of songs with more layers than normal for a late-period Lindisfarne album that are uniformly well performed and are produced and mixed particularly well for this period as late 1990s AAA albums go (oh the relief to return back to 'proper' guitars after the synth-hell that was 'Dance Your Life Away'!) The fact that Hull isn't around to dominate the vocals and writing credits means that Lindisfarne are more of a 'band' here than they'd been for a while: most of the recordings seem to revel in the chance of being able to play live and the sheer amount of instruments listed on the back cover hints at just what a wonderfully eclectic sound there is on this album (Rod alone plays 'dobro, electric slide, acoustic, mandolin and fiddle' whilst other band members play tin whistles, flute, accordion, banjo and jaw-harp). You certainly can't fault this album for effort and everyone impressively pulls together here in a way Lindisfarne hadn't needed to for years. The excellent 'Fog On The Tyne: Lindisfarne's Official History' by Dave Ian Hill is, naturally enough, a little over-excited by this album given that it was the one being made when the book came out but features a telling quote that all of the band who were involved at the time considered it to be like Lindisfarne's debut 'Nicely Out Of Tune', with everyone keen to be at their best and show off just what exactly the band can do to a sceptical and unsure audience. As a set of songs 'Neighbourhood' isn't quite up to that level and the lack of anything approaching Hull's nifty political awareness and outrage drops it down a level or two but the comparison is a good one: both are impressively consistent sets and the band are so well rehearsed and energised both albums sound like they had a lot of time and money spent on them, though in truth the band had very little of either.
What's more I really enjoyed the theme of this album, which is growing old both gracefully and disgracefully. Lindisfarne's eldest members were hitting their 50s when this album was released and the fact that half the band are now a good ten years younger than the rest (Marty, Ian and Dave) seems to have been playing on the minds of the songwriters. Admittedly it's never set out, but I'd wager that the ghost of Alan Hull is in these lyrics too somewhere - the speed with which he died and how quickly lives can change or even end clearly playing on the minds of his colleagues and there are lots of lyrics here about trying to live your life right while you can, of how short time is and trying to return to what you know is best. Characteristically Rod doesn't reveal much of himself in his songs - not compared to Hully anyway who always wore his heart on his sleeve and in his songs - and all of his narrators in these songs are 'characters' similar to but not necessarily sharing 'his' viewpoint. Notably, his characters are all older now and looking back on their past, though they all have very different feelings whilst doing so: some of them enjoying life (the oil rig worker 'working my way back home'), some of them guilty about what they got wrong ('Can't Do Right For Doing Wrong'), some of watching life passing them by ('Jubilee Corner') and others desperate to escape the problems they face ('One Day'). Billy picks up on the mood by giving his own upbeat take on Rod's songs 'Born At The Right Time', just as he did on 'It's Jack The Lad', the only album the pair worked on together prior to this (Rod left Jack The Lad in 1974). Marty's song picks up on the theme of muddling through hard times in the hope of better ones and Dave's song (as opposed to his twin instrumentals) on the theme of unexpected life changes. The most telling song, though, might well be Rod's 'The Ghost In Blue Suede Shoes' in which a musician nervously rehearses for his first show in a while, wondering if he's still got it and whether anyone will actually turn up before staring in a mirror and thinking 'not bad for 59' - a clear metaphor for Lindisfarne's position while making this album (in actual fact Rod would have been 51 at the time).
Another half-theme I picked up on - and the one thing on this album that's in keeping with what people 'expect' from Lindisfarne - is the amount of references to 'life oop North' on this album, something that hadn't actually been a part of the band's writing for some time (the band had spent more time writing about Russia and the collapse of the Iron Curtain on their recent records than Newcastle - the last 'Northern' song the band had written was Rod's 'Sunderland Boys' in 1982). Given that the band had had an unprecedented five years off between touring before making this album, it could be that they'd all ended up going back home for the first elongated period in years (and, unlike many bands, most of Lindisfarne did indeed have families somewhere around the Tyne). 'The Devil Of The North' is the most obvious reference and surely must have been inspired by Anthony Gormley's much-publicised statue 'The Angel Of The North' near to the Tyne and Wear, which was 'released' to the world in April 1998, just a couple of months before this album. Clements cleverly decided to salute a rather different side of Newcastle life - the charming 'salt of the earth' rebel with the heart of gold who knows what life in the city and district is really like (before ending the song by stating that we all have a 'little' of this devil inside us). 'Jubilee Corner' may also be a 'real' place in Newcastle (well, there's a 'Jubilee Road' in Gosforth, one of Newcastle's surrounding districts, which is kind of on a corner so that's good enough for me!) where aging life dropouts meet. The oil rig worker of 'Working My Way Back Home' sounds as if he's going back home to the 'North' too (the references to 'the wind and the cold' rather give it away!) while Rod's 'One Day' depicts a scene in the narrator's old home town meeting old friends - admittedly this could be set anywhere but I doubt I'm the first Lindisfarne fan to 'assume' that Newcastle is the 'town' in the song!
Perhaps, too, the theme ties into the album's curious title (decided on at the absolute last minute - for a time this album was called 'Songs For Uncle Henry' after the moody instrumental track nine). Fittingly, Dave Denholm's cover - the first time one of the band had been involved with the artwork since Jacka made 'Jackpot' for Jack The Lad in 1976 - does indeed feature a 'neighbourhood', a cornucopia of colours and shades that could depict any town, with the countryside of the outer parts fading in to a dark and grey industrial complex in the centre (note the storm clouds overhead). The cover works best on the rear sleeve, where the band have hung it up on the wall as if it's a window, a reflection of everything going on 'outside'. Unusual for Lindisfarne, the cover doesn't quite work lacking the 'striking' look of many Lindisfarne covers down the years (featuring the band variously in WW2 flying helmets, a dancing ballerina against a dark and foreboding sky and the eye-catching naked-waitress-with-strategically-placed-tray of 'Sleepless Nights'). The muted colours do successfully recreate the acoustic contents, but it's a shame that, say, a 'Jubilee Corner' or a 'Ghost in Blue Suede Shoes' aren't part of the cover! (there is an 'Unmarked Car' dead centre though!) One nice touch is bassist Ian Thomson's photographs on the inner sleeve of many of the instruments actually used during the making of this record - recalling the front cover of the first 'Jack The Lad' album (where the band proudly hold their guitars and fiddles aloft) and the lyrics of 'Ghost In Blue Suede Shoes', with a musician returning to the stage after so long away.
Overall, then, 'Here Comes The Neighbourhood' is a generally impressive album. It's nice to hear the band older and seemingly wiser and the make full use of the chance to wipe the band's slate clean, offering up a whole new band sound that's folkier and more reflective than in the past. Not everything on the album works - two instrumentals on a record is at least one too many, the lack of harmonies are a shame and Marty in particular seems under-used, while a 'stepping stone' hybrid album towards this sound - with a couple of electric rockers - would have been an easier way all round of adjusting band and fans to this terribly new sound; yes that was guitarist Si Cowe's special talent and he's missing now, but the last line up of Jack The Lad (featuring both Billy and drummer Ray Laidlaw) were as rocking as any band ever were and the closest song here - the glorious 'Unmarked Car' - hints at what the band might have done. Still, though, 'Neighbourhood' is a rather good and nicely mature album that might not have as many glorious moments as in the past but is an impressively consistent work, without a single weak spot. All the band chip in well, the new members taking to their roles with aplomb, while Billy sounds as if he's always been a part of this band (in many ways, of course, he was) and Rod's fulfils his obligations as the band's unwanted, unexpected de facto leader remarkably well. Certainly, the album deserved to do so much better - the closest the band came to having a hit from it was with 'Can't Do Right For Doing Wrong' and that was via a much-publicised but sadly small-selling cover as we shall see when we get to that very track. No, it's not a golden 'Lindisfarne' album, but given the circumstances 'Neighbourhood' is a remarkable achievement and deserved to be the start of a whole new book for the band, not the start of their last chapter. Yes you miss Jacka's distinctive edgy voice, Cowe's wonderfully eccentric lead guitar and backing vocals and there's a huge Alan Hull sized hole at this record's centre that even Billy Mitchell can't fill. But considering the circumstances, there isn't a lot more the band could have done to make this sound like proper 'Lindisfarne'. In short, the 'neighbourhood' isn't what it was back in the day when I was a lad and men were men and Lindisfarne were Lindisfarne, but you know what? It's a nice place to visit and I'm awfully glad this neighbourhood lasted a little bit longer so we could see it in all it's glory and true colours.
'Born At The Right Time' is - surprisingly perhaps - Billy's only song for the album and with the particular guitar tunings and Billy's earthy drawl is the most acoustic folky 'Jack The Lad' moment here (this must have been a shock to fans given that the last Lindisfarne track on album previous to this - 'Think' - was an angry snarling electric Alan Hull song which was in every way the ying to this song's laidback yang). The writer who once gave us 'Rocking Chair' - a song about a narrator with an empty life dreading the moment his children asks him to talk about his life and realising he has no stories no tell - is now semi-retired, free to do what he pleases and for now he's content to do nothing and take life easy. Starting off by feeling sorry for the youngsters of the town who have life hard ('kicking their heels and revving their wheels in search of a better time'), Mitchell points out that our 'fear' of growing old is often misplaced: life is much easier for him now he's no longer young and people expect less of him. The chorus runs with Mitchell's characteristic swagger, quickstepping rhythms not far removed from his 'Jack The Lad' song 'Trinidad' but this time the lazy beach holiday is at home, with days full of such delights as fishing and 'sleeping all day if I have a mind'. A sudden switch of key in the middle eight wishes that 'we'll all have better days', but proudly ends with the statement that missed opportunities don't bother him anyway: 'now is where I'm at' (this is such a contrast with 'Rockin' Chair', a song desperate to experience everything life has to offer). Lindisfarne turn in one of their better band performances of the period here too: Mitchell delivers a great vocal, revelling in the new cracks and strains in his voice (given that his last readily available recording was 22 years earlier in 1976 the cracks are noticeably there if you hear the recordings back-to-back; if anything Billy's voice sounds better in his 50s and the lived-in sound suits him), Craggs turns in a superb harmony vocal, Denholm's jangly guitar sounds just enough like Cowe's to maintain a link with the past and it 'feels' like the band are playing together, unlike the overdub fests on 'Dance Your Life Away' 'Amigos' and 'Elvis'. It might not sound much like Lindisfarne - perhaps the band might have been better off putting 'Devil Of The North' here first for nervous fans? - but it sounds mighty fine whoever it sounds like. Born at the right time indeed.
'Ghost In Blue Suede Shoes' is the first of an unprecedented seven Rod Clements songs, like many on this album written in collaboration with Nigel Stonier, a producer-come-folk guitarist formerly of band Northern Sky. The song might have a folky flavour and Mitchell on lead vocal again, but it sounds noticeably more Lindisfarny thanks to Rod's pop sensibilities (you could easily imagine Jacka singing this on an early Lindisfarne album). The lyrics are some of Rod's cleverest, again reminding us of the narrator's age ('he's put his kids through college, he's worked and paid his dues') and given the circumstances this tale of an old rocker going back to the music he used to play in his youth before 'life' got in the way is particularly clever. The fact that he's a 'ghost' that the world doesn't see and who hasn't been playing music for years is sweet too. Listen out too for the closing lines, which transposes the character's age ('not bad for 59') with the date in the past ('The way it was in '59'), a clever touch even if it means that Rod can't be speaking about himself here (not for another eight years anyway). The fan-friendly line that, despite the long gap, 'those who still remember come dancing to the sound' is a rather nice nod of the head to the dedicated few who bought this record. However, the melody for the song isn't up to others on this record, being rather one-note for most of the song and the fact that there's very little change within the song (just a short middle eight, 'And those who still remember...') means that this lovely song isn't quite as memorable as others on this record. The band sound slightly unsure here too: this song doesn't suit Billy as well as some of Rod's other songs and the song needs Marty to join in with him sooner than just the short middle eight. Marty's harmonica playing also sounds slightly wrong here too, even though the mouthorgan has always been such a part of the 'band sound' thanks to Jacka's extraordinary playing down the years: here though it seems out of kilter with everything else, too heavy a touch for such a 'light' song. Still, though, the lyrics are clever enough to compensate for these short comings. That's Billy's son Scott playing piano on this track, by the way, the only 'guest' musician on the album (if relatives count as 'guests' anyway!)
My probable favourite song on the record is 'Jubilee Corner', though more for what I think it 'might' mean than what is there. In the narrative the 'corner' - which we guess is in Newcastle (see above) - has become notorious for people to hang out and observe the world (and who better to observe it than local son Alan Hull, one of the best observers in the business?) Rod's on record as saying that the song was written by his sub-conscious 'while I was trying to write something else' and isn't quite sure what the song means himself. For me, though, it can surely only mean one thing: the setting is a street 'in the middle of town' 'where the angels meet' and Rod's narrator is meeting someone on a 'corner' ('Meet Me On The Corner' is Rod's most famous song and his only 'hit' with Lindisfarne, with its narrator waiting to meet their loved one a metaphor for the promise of something exciting and enticing just out of sight round the corner in life). Could it be that Rod is meeting up with old pal Alan Hull here, imagining his old bandmate showing him round the afterlife? It's notably 'where the angels meet' after all and none of the people involved seem to be touched by the ravages of time or the must-haves of the modern world where 'life' consists of 'stereo headphones' 'four-wheel drive' and 'mobile telephones' (a notably early reference to what will become the Western World's favourite irritating gadget in 1999). Alternatively is this set on Earth but has the narrator meeting a slightly older version of Hull's likeable loser from 'Fog On The Tyne' - one of the most Hull-like of all his many characters sharing the same dole-trapped background as Alan himself - still optimistically hanging around town waiting for something to happen. Of course this could all be complete rubbish, but it's a nice thought for us fans to have, that our Hully came down to have one last drink and creative input into his old partner's subconscious. Another view is that - like many a Jack The Lad song - the narrator is turning his back on a capitalist world for another one, full of real characters, loveable villains and rogues you just don't meet working in an office. The first verse has the narrator desperate to join in, the second has him turning his back on life to live there as a tramp figure with a 'worn out raincoat and a plastic bag' and the third denounces the modern consumerist society (Jubilee Corner even sits opposite a 'Benetton billboard'). And yet, 'Jubilee Corner' still sounds like it has an 'other-worldly feel', with an arrangement that manages to sound both 'earthly' and 'ethereal'. Written by Rod while trying to write a 'different' song for the album, could this song be his conscious and sub-consiousses meeting in the middle, as it were? Either way, 'Jubilee Corner' is one of the real high points on the album, with a driving guitar/mandolin riff that's the most Linidisfarnish here on the album (and not that far removed from perhaps the most famous mandolin part of all - Jacka's break on Rod Stewart's Maggie Mae') and some clever ambiguous lyrics. Perhaps Rod's sub-conscious should write more songs like this one...
'Can't Do Right For Doing Wrong' is another clever song and the best known track on the album, thanks to a cover version by singer Erin Rocha that got one heck of a lot of airplay in the late 1990s but sadly wasn't quite the monster hit everyone was anticipating (the song peaked at #36 in the UK charts, which is better than this album managed but still a bit of a disappointment). The tale behind her cover is a fascinating one: Rocha was all of 16 years old and on 'work experience' in a Dorset recording studio when Rod got in touch with the premises, looking for a female singer to record a 'demo' of the song to pitch round to 'established' stars who might fancy having a go. The job would normally have gone to someone else but their usual singer was off sick that day and as it was only for a 'demo' a nervous Rocha agreed to have a go. As it happened, Clements liked her version so much he insisted it be released with her vocal instead and suddenly Erin was Radio 2's all too brief new 'discovery'. Lindisfarne's version is slower and less 'poppy' than the better known cover, with an emphasis on folk and a backing track of reedy guitars, tin whistle and bluesy bass (notably there are no drums on this version). Lyrically this is another clever song (written by Rod with Nigel Stonier again) and unusual for Clements who tends to keep his emotions out of his songs. Like 'The Things I Should Have Said' off 'Nicely Out Of Tune', however, this song is about a character who feels lots of emotion but has trouble expressing it and who always seems to say the wrong things whenever he wants to comfort his partner. A common theme for a song then, but Clement's song sounds particularly heartfelt, with a melody full of helpless misery that won't 'settle' on a proper root chord in fear of saying the wrong thing, musically hopping from one leg to the other in frustration. Lyrically the song is a strong one too, all too believable with its exaggerated politeness ('If I should have a mind to say...') and the repeated AAAB rhyming structure, as if the narrator simply won't let the idea go. In short, there's a whole story going on here that you sense doesn't stop when the singing does, which is the sign of a well written song. In fact the song is so good at conveying so much emotion whilst actually saying very little that I feel like I'm going over old ground, having 'covered' this song as part of my A-level English Language coursework in 'unusual expressions of love in music' (along with 10cc's 'SSSSilly Love' and a bunch of less interesting songs by lesser artists that sadly I had to cover - I got a 'B' if you're interested and lost most of my marks for running way over the word count; some things never change!) Another of the album highlights, 'Can't Do Right For Doing Wrong' is certainly more 'right' than 'wrong', although I have to say that the expressive, emotional Mitchell has bigger problems trying to get Rod's detached, expressionless character across than other songs on the album.
'Working My Way Back Home' is a Clements and Stonier song written in collaboration with Liverpudlian songwriter Jimmy Barrett, who'd worked with the band on the 'Elvis' album. A jolly tale of an oil rigger coming back home after a long time away, it's more like a song from the 'Amigos' album, with a working class narrator so desperate for work he's prepared to go miles away from home to earn money for the family he never sees. The track has a more positive slant though, more like the songs on this album and 'Fog On The Tyne', with the emphasis on the character's joy at being able to put all the hard work behind him and return home, even if technically speaking he's been laid off and is worrying about where his next pay cheque will come from. Whether intended or not, there's a definite parallel with Lindisfarne's perhaps third most famous song 'Run Form Home', from their reunion album 'Back and Fourth' in 1978, with home a similar haven of peace and tranquillity after a hard time away. This song is earthier, though, and is more about the hard life the narrator is leaving behind than what he's 'running' towards. There's a surprisingly technical bit of detail in the middle eight ('Traxcavator, rubber duck, JCB') that sounds a bit of a mouthful, but otherwise this is another clever bit of character observation from Clements and co. The song is born for Marty Cragg's, err, 'craggier' vocal for lack of a better word, the saxophone player bringing out the gruff working class bravado in the song and doubling up with some fine harmonica playing. Bassist Ian Thomson plays a 'jaw's harp' here too, making for a nicely unusual setting for Lindisfarne. However the song doesn't have quite the emotional weight of others on the album and soundwise is a bit anonymous trapped between two such excellent songs.
All that effort spent on 'Unmarked Car' was worth it, though: quietly brooding and sinister despite some vague lyrics and built on a marvellously dark and asymmetrical riff, this is certainly one of the more striking songs on the album. Denholm wrote the song with Clements and Stonier's help and it's his first credit on a Lindisfarne record as well as his first vocal for the band. The cleverness of the song is the way it builds up such an eerie atmosphere from so little: as much as the narrator drops in lines like 'vigilante' and 'desert wells burning', he never actually gets his hands dirty and is actually watching out for other people doing things they shouldn't be doing. In truth he could be a car park attendant for all we know and for all he does in the song. The feeling, though, is that he's so much more than that - an unseen force, watching over us, waiting for us to do wrong; the devil if you will. The fact that the man is in an 'unmarked car' sounds terribly menacing in context, as if he's above the law, but of course all it really means is that there's nothing written on his vehicle. This is such an unusual sound for Lindisfarne and almost all of the familiar elements (the vocals, the harmonies, the guitar and the 'feel') are missing, so it's no surprise that so many fans have commented that this track feels somehow 'separate' compared to the other recordings here; no wonder too that it took such a long time to get right. However it's a shame that Lindisfarne didn't try more dark and dangerous songs like this one because they get this recording spot-on: bass heavy and murky, with no less than three guitarists (Rod, Billy and Dave) doubling Ian's bass part and some more excellent flute playing from Marty over the top. The single most adventurous Lindisfarne song since 'Good To Be Here?' in 1979, Alan Hull would surely have been proud of what his son-in-law and bandmates came up with.
'Devil Of The North' is a bit of light relief after such intensity from Clements and Stonier, a comedy song celebrating the 'real' spirit of Newcastle following the erection of an angelic statue with big arms that seemed to be endlessly in the news back in 1998 (which always looked like an anaemic Mr Tickle cast in bronze to me). The opening lines of the lyric make it clear that they're celebrating something 'real' here: 'He ain't made out of iron, he ain't made of steel, he's no work of art but he sure as hell is real'. The Devil of the north might be on the wrong side of the law at times but he's always on the side of Newcastle's people, championing the under-dog being beaten by 'the man', causing strikes when working conditions get too bad, tricking the rent collector out of taking some poor hard bitten family's savings and even when Newcastle United score against rivals Sunderland. As much of a shadow as the 'Unmarked Car' driver, this spirit is out for good, but on his terms. A clever catchy chrorus ('Shout it from the pulpit, bang it on a drum, call for your mama but she ain't gonna come!') makes for a memorable song and Billy and Marty sound good again together here, with Mitchell especially revelling in a song that's so similar to his own style of writing (this could easily have been a mid 70s Jack The Lad number). Not as deep as some other songs on the album, perhaps, but still welcome.
'Uncle Henry' is a curious instrumental from Denholm that's positively Fairport Convention. A slow, stately gallop through a melody that sounds as if it does date back to time immemorial, it just about succeeds thanks to some sensitive playing from Denholm's lead guitar, Rod's acoustic and Ian's rumbling Pentangle-like bass. The song's curious title comes from producer Sid Griffin, who thought that the tune reminded a little of 'my Uncle Henry' - who on the basis of the music must have been a slow, steady but rather emotional and mournful relative in his later years. While well played and with a lovely yearning melody that successfully expresses melancholy (was this song originally a lament for Alan Hull?), you have to question whether this song belongs on a Lindisfarne album - given that Rod never played much guitar before this album there's nothing here to link this sound with what fans would have known and loved - and it's not quite up to the standards of the rest of the album, sound9ng a little too much like something from a film score than a bona fide 'song'. For a time the album was known as 'Songs from Uncle Henry' in deference to this song - as well as some other fun names: 'Breakfast In Bedlam' 'North by North East' 'Ghost to Ghost' (ouch - the band' worst pun since 'Back and Fouth') and best of all 'Senile Delinquence' , a title that sums up the album well even if the band were probably right to drop it when they realised what fun sarcastic reviewers like me would have with it!
'One Day' is another album highlight, the last song on the album from the pen of Rod and Dave along with Nigel Stonier. Simple as it is, this song is really effective and emotional, really tugging at the heart strings with its desperate belief in better times around the corner. The song starts with the narrator meeting an 'old friend' he hadn't seen in years and realising how the decades have changed him, being 'cold and underfed' before a second verse reflects on a lost love with a 'lost look in her eye', who never married the man of her dreams and whose life never quite turned out the way she wanted it to. A final verse then finds the narrator, like the one on the Beatles' 'In My Life', walking back through places from his youth and remarking on the differences between then and now, in himself as much as his surroundings. Gorgeously full of melancholia, the characters all dream of a happiness which they secretly know they will probably never have and yet there's nothing sarcastic or vengeful in the song's many repeats of the chorus wishing for brighter days. A very Ray Davies track, split between short term pessimism and long term optimism, it's a marvellous piece of writing and all too easy to identify with. The aching, yearning melody is gorgeous too, sounding 'trapped' on one or two notes for the verse before suddenly flowering into a full octave range on the chorus, finally free to become all the things it always wanted to be. Rod should have sent this song to be 'demoed' as well as 'Can't Do Right' - both songs are clearly by far and away the best on the album and unusually emotional for such a normally controlled writer. Billy does the song proud too, positively launching into the final verse and the band turn in another fine performance. One day songs like this one will become famous the world over, in another space and time, one day...
The album ends with Marty's only song on the album, 'Driftin' Through', which picks up on many of the same themes. Sadly the song - a paean to the fact that every human being has troubles to overcome and no clear plan on how to resolve the issues they face - isn't quite as strong and the band might have been better to switch the two songs around on the album. The most Hull-like song on the album, a sprightly verse about leaving your troubles behind can't quite cover up a feeling of helplessness at this song's core ('Driftin' Through, Ah it's the best that we can do') or a feeling that without much melody to go on the band themselves are rather 'drifting through'. Marty delivers another strong vocal, however, on an album on which he's badly underused and he turns in some more fine harmonica work too. The song isn't a bad one, then, but it does need a little something extra to keep it interesting and runs out of steam long before the ends of its 5:30 running time. The best moment, though, might be left to last with Marty's accordion and Rod's mandolin setting out for a duet-ted jig that gradually takes over as the rest of the band stop playing one by one - a device that sounds corny on paper but is highly effective on record (giving the impression of the narrator carrying on with his life regardless of his surroundings).
Overall, then, 'Here Comes The Neighbourhood' is a special album from a band who seem to know that their best days are behind them but still have so much to say that they have to keep going. It's no 'Nicely Out Of Tune or 'Fog On The Tyne' and wouldn't give even 'Dingly Dell' many 'Sleepless Nights' (or 'Sleepless Nights' any 'Dingly Dells'!) but it's an articulate, often powerful album from a band with a special maturer vibe all of its own. No one could ever fill Alan Hull's shoes and the fact that before his death the band had also lost band members Jacka and Si to quite different careers is a great shame. But sensibly this line-up of Lindisfarne doesn't try to replace anybody: all the band members do what they were good at doing before joining the band and much as he might have hated the spotlight this album gave him, the chance to hear more songs than ever before from Lindisfarne's quiet bass player is a definite plus for this album. The bad news is that this album doesn't sound much like Lindisfarne, re-setting too many buttons at once when a few nods to the old sound might have been needed. The good news is that the 'new' sound on display here isn't the cul-de-sac so many people took it to be but a truly marvellous sound in its own right. As anyone whose ever moved house will have found, being in such a new 'Neighbourhood' is at first overwhelming and odd, but by turns slowly becomes more beautiful and more like 'home' the more you get to know it. Given more time to get used to the new surroundings Lindisfarne might yet have provided the best scenery of the late 1990s and early 2000s, but even passing through it's easy to recognise the beauty of the landscape and care with which the residents have cared for their surroundings. Overall rating - 6/10.