Saturday, July 27, 2013
Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel - Timeless Flight
Timeless Flight (1976) ***
Reviews are subjective by nature, and while I honestly enjoy this album a bit more (considerably more on a good day) than the three stars indicated above, that's simply because I like Steve Harley. No, I don't mean that I know him personally - he could be an asshole in real life, for all I know or care. He's got one of those rare voices that simply oozes warmth and charisma - a bit like Roger McGuinn does (did?), with a similarly friendly, slightly straining tenor. The Cockney Rebels are present in name and perfunctory backup musicianship only: this is the album where Harley apparently decided to make his gambit for serious singer-songwriter. What that amounts to in practice is that we get an entire album's worth of mid-tempo, folky pop/rock songs stripped of any extraneous instrumentation that distracts from the words and the vocal delivery of those words - Harley's a man with a message, kids. Exactly what that message is remains unclear, shrouded by metaphoric obscurity even at its most topical ("Red is a Mean, Mean Colour," character assassinates Bolshevik U.K. politicians with Cold War paranoia, but you'd never guess that unless you already knew to look for it - then it all falls into place). Oh, "Understanding," is straightforward, alright - in a rather gruesome way. Harley had written love songs before, but never so bitelessly banal. "Don't Go, Don't Cry," is the second album lowlight - mellow funk was never Harley's forte; it rocks so mildly it inspires little more than toe-tapping, never mind booty-shaking. The rest of the album's six cuts are alright - just alright. nothing more; perhaps with the exception of the twilight loveliness of "All Men Are Hungry," the surefire cut-out for compilations. Harley almost seems intent on sheer hooklessness, avoiding any of his trademark oddball hooks that made him interesting in the first place - perhaps he thought those too gimmicky and glam too juvenile, but now he's grownup and making mature music for serious consideration. And if there's usually a recipe for a formerly exciting artist slipping into menopausal boredom, that's it. The album initially comes off as drab and monochromatic as its cover: classic Cockney Rebel swirled in kaleidoscope; solo Steve Harley steeps briskly in Earl Grey. However, adjust yourself to the sad reality of a deeply ordinary, musically unadventurous singer-songwriter album and you've got quite a good one - that is, if you're predisposed to like Mr. Harley and his sense of songcraft already. The album is too laidback by half - more Gordon Lightfoot than Bob Dylan, but hey I like Lightfoot, too, mellow easy-going melodics and all. "Nothing is Sacred," essays the best of that Lightfoot/Dylan style, over five breathless (literally) minutes of verbiage with no room for any other than a torrent of words. It's off-putting at first, but give it some time and it becomes cozy and comfortable. Same as the rest of the album.