no-man – Returning Jesus (2017 remaster / deluxe edition)

7 11 2017

returning_jesus 500Originally released in February 2001, Returning Jesus received highly positive reviews in Mojo, Uncut, Billboard, Classic Rock and other publications at the time of its release and has continued to be seen by both critics and fans as one of the best albums produced by the duo of Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson.

The November 2017 KScope reissue features a 2017 Steven Wilson remaster, and sleeve notes from Tim Bowness.

Only Rain is one of no-man’s most minimalist pieces. A seemingly Arvo Part inspired string intro slowly builds and comes to life with a beautiful Ian Carr trumpet refrain. The first noticeable upgrade with this 2017 remaster is the double bass from Colin Edwin, you can really feel the strings, as if you are in the room with the band. If you have seen no-man live on one of their rare live performances over the past few years, Only Rain is one of the highlights.

Returning Jesus was the beginning of a drift away from more electronic recordings of the bands previous albums. No Defence, along with album closer All That You Are, have a feel of classic 50s or early 60s standards. Smoky trumpet and slide guitar adorn No Defence, one of the most wry songs on the album.

“Love it all. No Disgrace.”

Close Your Eyes, rescued from the earlier song Desert Heart, and expanded from the Carolina Skeletons EP, builds into one of the albums highlights, with some fine Steve Jansen percussion and a memorable Wilson guitar solo. The arrangement, especially the end section, is stunning. Close Your Eyes was a highlight on the 2012 no-man tour. If anyone has a recording of the song from that tour, please get in touch!

no-man yellow

The next couple of tracks are two of no-mans finest ballads. Carolina Skeletons is one of the most underrated no-man songs. If it doesn’t melt your heart, you need to visit a doctor. The production on Caroline Skeletons is top notch. Processed sounds mix with cleaner instrumentation, topped by Tim’s vocals (Wilson certainly knows how to mix his partner in crime perfectly).

Outside the Machine builds from a delicious Steve Jansen groove, whilst piano and fretless bass underpin one of Bowness’s best vocals. Its croon-central! The subtle vocal processing and backing vocal arrangement is a masterclass of how to convey emotion in a simple, direct way. The electronics and textures of the end section remind me a little of the David Bowie Outside album.

“You’re all lit up like catherine wheels. You’re all lit up, but you’re not real.”

Outside the Machine is a beautiful track, as is the title track to the album. One of the most discordant, unconventional tracks the band have recorded, Returning Jesus is also one of the most moving. A temporary return to electronica, the gamelan loop is inspired and when the layered strings, bass and guitar lines sweep into the song, there is a real magical feeling. As Returning Jesus progresses, a heavenly synth sequence ushers in the pleading Bowness “I don’t want to stay a million miles away” line.

I remember reading an interview with New Order’s Bernard Sumner, who described waking up to Winter in July by Bomb The Bass, and thinking he had gone to heaven. I get the same feeling whenever I hear the Returning Jesus title track – it simply has 3 or 4 moments where the song sends me to another place.

noman greenAfter the albums only instrumental, Slow It All Down, we come to another album, and indeed career, highlight from no-man. Lighthouse is my favourite no-man song, but strangely, not this version!

The studio version is the nearest to progressive rock no-man have released and appears to be a lot of fans favourite track on the album. Jansen’s drumming is out of this world, but for me the definitive version is the Lighthouse (First Demo) that appears on the second disc of this re-issue. I admit that the drum machine is no match for the album versions live drums, but the demo version sums up everything I love about no-man. And from 3 minutes 56, a much expanded (from the later version) mostly instrumental section, with an angular guitar line duelling with slowly building piano arpeggios, is one of my favourite pieces of music from any band, in any era. Every time I hear it, it sends shivers.

Back to the main album, All That You Are with its shuffling drums and rock ‘n roll ballad feel, is a fine end to the album.

Second disc highlights

The second disc (on the CD version) has a fine selection of EP tracks, demos and alternate versions from the Returning Jesus era. Something Falls is a return to the mostly beatless Speak era sound. Sometimes the most simple, stripped back arrangements can be as effective as a full-on mix, and that is certainly the case here.

I love the production on Until Tomorrow – banjo to one side, vocals to the other, a trick used in a lot of 60s recordings. It helps you concentrate on the individual performances with enhanced clarity. Chelsea Cap is one of the finest long-lost no-man tracks, with a great drum track, some wonderful organ and a chorus to die for. It could have easily made it to the main album.

Song About The Heart is an early version of the theme that became Lighthouse. Of the two versions of Darkroom on the second disc, I prefer the more twisted, almost Wild Opera-like alternate version.

Like A Child is a further exploration of the Close Your Eyes percussion with a Bowness vocal sample from the end of the same song. Slow It All Down (Long Version) is an interesting, very different version – more electronic than its disc one counterpart.

Another highlight of the second disc is All That You Are (Demo), with a similar arrangement, but feeling less nostalgic due to the more forceful drum pattern and synth strings. Its interesting how much of the arrangement was already decided in this demo version.

This is by far the best version of Returning Jesus. The 2017 Steven Wilson remaster delivers the definitive version of this classic no-man album.

Deluxe CD

Amazon
Burning Shed

CD 1 – Returning Jesus (2001):

1. Only Rain (7:24)
2. No Defence (5:20)
3. Close Your Eyes (8:25)
4. Carolina Skeletons (5:08)
5. Outside The Machine (5:46)
6. Returning Jesus (5:19)
7. Slow It All Down (3:42)
8. Lighthouse (8:12)
9. All That You Are (4:44)

CD 2 – EP Tracks/Demos/Alternate Versions (1994-2003)

1. Something Falls (3.34)
2. Close Your Eyes – 1998 EP version (7.47)
3. Carolina Reprise (3.00)
4. Until Tomorrow – Hi-Fi (2.59)
5. Chelsea Cap (5.25)
6. Darkroom (3.52)
7. Until Tomorrow – Lo-Fi (3.15)
8. Song About The Heart (2.48)
9. Lighthouse – First Demo (10.27)
10. Darkroom – Alternate Version (5.35)
11. Like A Child (4.10)
12. Chelsea Cap – Alternate Version (6.50)
13. Lighthouse – Second Demo (8.58)
14. Slow It All Down – Long Version (5.13)
15. All That You Are – Demo (4.36)

Vinyl: double 180g LP

Amazon
Burning Shed

side 1
1. only rain (7.24)
2. no defence (5.20)
3. close your eyes (8.25)

side 2
1. carolina skeletons (5.08)
2. outside the machine (5.46)
3. returning jesus (5.19)

side 3
1. slow it all down (3.42)
2. lighthouse (8.12)
3. all that you are (4.44)

side 4 – ep tracks:
1. something falls (3.34)
2. chelsea cap (5.25)
3. until tomorrow – hi-fi (2.59)
4. darkroom (3.52)
5. carolina reprise (3.00)

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