Anathema – The Optimist

11 06 2017

The OptimistThe Optimist is the eleventh album from Liverpool’s Anathema, and a continuation of the story told in 2001’s A Fine Day to Exit album.

I hear shades of current bands such as Archive in The Optimist, and from early on its quite clear that this is a much more electronic offering than recent Anathema albums. The 5.1 mix (by Bruce Soord with Vincent Cavanagh) is enthralling – the electronic beats of Leaving it Behind scatter around the speakers – and the audio narrative that is so important to this album feels much clearer in the 5.1 version.

Endless Ways is a beautiful track – I love the Pink Floyd-esque guitar riff, and the emotive, reverb heavy vocal from Lee Douglas sits really well in the mix.

‘The dream I’m creating’

The albums title track is a standout song. Although the band have made the theme of the album clear, the lyrics on the album are open to interpretation – and suggest a story of someone running away and looking for direction, or maybe salvation. The track The Optimist builds with layers of guitar over strings and piano, and the end section is very moving.

My favourite track on the album is the instrumental San Francisco. The Run like Hell inspired guitar riff runs as a counter-play to the piano arpeggio – and when the hard sequencer riff hits, I’m simply in electronica heaven. Giorgio Moroder would be proud of you Anathema! This track has to be heard through headphones or a 5.1 setup to be really appreciated. There is joy in repetition.

The next stop on the journey is Springfield. The guitar and piano lines (with a sweet separation in the mix) evolve until the wall of guitars hit you so hard it hurts.

‘How did I get here
I don’t belong here’

Ghosts has a wonderful Massive Attack (Teardrops) beat and a lovely string arrangement.

Anathema press session © Scarlet Page

Can’t let go is the most uptempo song on the album, and sounds like a hybrid of Radiohead and Tears for Fears – that’s a good thing by the way. The lead and rhythm guitars are stunning on Can’t let go.

The simple and direct lyrics of Close your eyes match it’s atmospheric and disturbing music, as it mutates into an almost Twin Peaks like jazz arrangement. The album artwork maybe displays another David Lynch (Lost Highway) influence.

‘Close your eyes, just dream on’

Close your eyes flows directly into Wildfires, with its heavily treated vocals and percussion, as the track moves towards its powerful climax. The child’s music-box keyboard and guitar underpin the sad ‘too late’ refrain.

‘Who am I?’

The Optimist closes with a solo voice and guitar performance that comes into focus as the full band kicks in on Back to the start. The most psychedelic track on the album, with Beatles like guitar / strings and uplifting harmonies.

“They don’t understand, cos they don’t talk for me”

The Optimist is a powerful and moving album, that really resonates in these uncertain and troubling times. It is also one of Anathema’s finest albums to date.

Buy The Optimist on CD

Buy The Optimist Vinyl

Buy the Optimist Blu-ray (includes mp3 download)

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Thomas Lang – Torch

19 02 2014

Thomas Lang - "Torch"Torch is the first new album from the Liverpool singer-songwriter Thomas Lang since Versions in 1996. Like Versions, the majority of the new album consists of cover versions. But where Versions was in some ways a homage to soul music, this pays tribute to late night, smokey jazz. For an artist so well known for his electrifying live performances, this is surprisingly only Lang’s second live release.

Torch opens with a cover of the Paul McCartney classic Maybe I’m Amazed. Recorded live in the studio, with just piano and no overdubs, stripped of the full band of the Macca original, it’s a powerful performance of one of the finest McCartney solo songs.

The rest of the album was recorded live during an intimate show at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in April 2011. As someone who attended the live concert, Torch is a great reminder of the evening, though sadly Lang’s between song quips are not part of the live album, which would have necessitated a double or triple album release to accommodate the often lengthy Lang tales!

The performances on Torch are subtle and restrained – listen to the end of the Torch version of Me & Mrs Jones below. The raw emotion in the performance seeps through, making this my favourite version of the song (surpassing the studio version from the debut Thomas Lang album, Scallywag Jaz…).

Masquerade (previously recorded by Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye to name but two) is a highlight of the album. The arrangement with just piano, sax and Lang’s powerful, rich vocals feels so right – see what I did there, Lang fans?

Torch has a real feel of the late 50s and early 1960s, especially on Billie Holiday’s tale of addiction, Good Morning Heartache. Some wonderful sax and guitar interplay from Paul Thomas and John Wheatcroft on this song.

My Prayer, a huge hit for The Platters in 1956, has a bossa-nova feel that takes you back to a long-lost era of our parents and their music collections that were filled with Elvis, Neil Sedaka and Connie Francis records. Younger listeners will recognise My Prayer from the David Fincher film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

© Brian Roberts

God Bless the Child was previously included as a studio cut on the Versions album, but this live recording is closer to the Billie Holiday arrangement. The band get a wonderful laidback groove going on this song. Another great take of God Bless the Child is a wonderful 1980s version by Billy MacKenzie and The Associates from a Radio 1 session. But I digress…

The album ends with Shoelaces, from Scallywag Jaz… continuing the Mrs Jones story and the only Lang original song on the album.

Hopefully the release of Torch will see Thomas taking the band on tour, so we can hear more Lang originals given jazz re-workings, maybe with some other long-lost classic songs re-worked (I’ve always thought a Thomas Lang version of Rickie Lee Jones On Saturday Afternoons In 1963 or Steely Dan’s Dirty Work would be worth hearing).

But for now, dim the lights, pour a glass of your favourite tipple and enjoy Torch. It’s good to have you back Tom.

Torch tracklisting:

Maybe I’m Amazed
In The Wee Small Hours
He Needs Me
Me and Mrs Jones
My Prayer
Masquerade
Loverman
Good Morning Heartache
God Bless The Child
Shoelaces

Buy the CD from Amazon UK

Other Thomas Lang releases
August Day / Scared mp3 single on Amazon

Scallywag Jaz and more – the best of Thomas Lang mp3 album on Amazon

The Lost Letter Z mp3 album on Amazon

Live in Tokyo mp3 album on Amazon

Versions mp3 album on Amazon

Feels so Right mp3 EP on Amazon

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood mp3 EP on Amazon








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