Men Singing is the long-awaited follow-up to the band’s 2001 self-titled debut.
The 2013 line-up of the band includes new collaborators Jarrod Gosling (I Monster/Regal Worm), Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music) and classical violinist Steve Bingham and drummer Andrew Booker (both part of the current live no-man line-up).
The debut Henry Fool album was a mixture of instrumentals and songs, whereas Men Singing is a solely instrumental album, and is a much more coherent listening experience.
Men Singing was recorded over a long period of time – between 2006 and 2012, with Jarrod Gosling and Phil Manzanera adding their contributions towards the end of the recording process. Phil Manzanera adds guitar to Everyone In Sweden and Man Singing. Jarrod Gosling appears on all four tracks, contributing Mellotron, glockenspiel and the excellent album artwork.
Album opener Everyone In Sweden sets the mood, with shifting time signatures, and solos alternating between guitar, jazzy saxophone, and very distorted bass. The music shifts across genres, often two or three times in the same song, which is a great way to keep you listening, especially in the longer pieces. Some instrumental albums can be hard to listen to in one sitting, but Men Singing is certainly not background music, and the performances demand your full attention.
The vintage keyboards often give a real early to mid-70s feel to the pieces. There’s a wonderful section 7 minutes in to Everyone In Sweden, the album’s longest track, where everything breaks down, and keyboard washes give way to a mournful sax and guitar line as the piece ends.
Man Singing, which of course has (no) man singing, is a slower paced affair, and features no-man’s Tim Bowness on very angular chord/arpeggio guitar. There are hints of Adrian Belewesque guitar sounds on the album, which along with the keyboards, sometimes give a feel of Bowie‘s Berlin trilogy as well as more obvious King Crimson influences. The cut to the basics chorused guitar and strings ending works perfectly on this track.
Track 3 is the perfectly titled My Favourite Zombie Dream, which has a real feeling of dread and anticipation about it. Oscillating strings from Stephen Bennett underpin the piece, as it slowly builds to it’s climax, like a soundtrack to a yet-to-be released George A. Romero film.
The final track on Men Singing is the 13 minute plus Chic Hippo. The violin playing of Steve Bingham features heavily, and Stephen Bennett (according to the sleevenotes) is credited with Miles Davis, Mavis Riley and Terry Riley impressions. Mavis Riley? That must have been difficult to pull off – “ooh, I don’t really know”. Apologies, no-one under 45 (or anyone outside of the UK) will get that cultural reference.
The mid-section of Chic Hippo is one of the most rewarding parts of the album. Fluttering church organ sounds give way to sax riffs from Myke Clifford that would not have sounded out of place on early Bowie or Roxy Music albums, topped off with some wonderful slide guitar from Michael Bearpark. The percussion work from Andrew Booker is another highlight of Chic Hippo.
Men Singing is a strong second album from Henry Fool, and a radical departure for Tim Bowness. Have a listen to the edits on this page, via SoundCloud and YouTube. Another indication of the quality of this album is that it was mastered by award-winning Pink Floyd sound engineer, Andy Jackson.
The album is likely to appeal to fans of mid-period Porcupine Tree as well as those intrigued by Steven Wilson‘s recent foray into more improvisational / jazz-rock influenced material. If you like albums that disturb as much as entertain, then let the men of Henry Fool sing for you.
Henry Fool – Men Singing
(KSCOPE244 / 836) – March 11th, 2013 – available in vinyl and CD versions