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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no-man – mixtaped / returning

29 11 2009


mixtaped
is no-man’s first DVD, and it serves as an excellent introduction to the band once described as “Britain’s most underrated sorrowful sonic architects”, as well as offering much for the long-term fan.

The double DVD comes in two parts. DVD one is mixtaped, which is the whole recording of no-man’s London show from 2008 (the band’s first full live performance in 15 years), plus a live photo gallery.

The second DVD is titled returning, which contains an 85 minute documentary, the complete videos for several no-man songs, a no-man chronology and deleted scenes.

disc one – mixtaped

Wilson, Bowness & Bingham

One thing that really stands out on the live DVD (as it did at the concert) is that no-man live are a very different beast to the studio incarnation.

The 2008 European shows surprised many with the power behind some of the songs. time travel in texas from this DVD is a prime example. The studio version (from 1996’s wild opera) is from the trip-hop era, and is dark and glitchy. The 2008 live version keeps the main arrangement but adds real muscle to the performance.

all the blue changes is one of the stand-out performances on this DVD. A slow-building crescendo, the song includes some wonderful interplay between guitarists Michael Bearpark and Steven Wilson. 

no-man live on the "mixtaped" DVD

days in the trees is a re-invention of one of the more well known no-man songs. Whilst it still keeps the spirit of the original song intact, this classic song, served up without the break-beats, and performed by this 2008 version of no-man, had a fresh new momentum.

lighthouse, from 2001’s returning jesus album, stayed faithful to the studio recording, and seemed to be a definite highlight for the audience on the night.

In fact, this performance reminded me why lighthouse is my most-played no-man track, and why the final section of the song is one of my favourite pieces of music ever. The guitar / violin interplay and subtle mood changes within in this performance are so moving.

A wonderful, slide-guitar infused take on carolina skeletons follows, and the atmospheric returning jesus is performed with a real lightness of touch.

The mixtaped DVD ends with two flowermouth tracks. things change features a guest performance from former no-man member Ben Coleman, who gives a blistering performance on electric violin. The concert ends with the beautiful watching over me.

Ben Coleman guests on "things change"

The clarity of sound on this DVD, especially if played on a 5.1 system, is amazing. There is wonderful separation between the instruments, and tracks such as returning jesus, lighthouse and all the blue changes raise the bar on what a live DVD should sound like. The picture quality on the live disc is sharp and the colours are vibrant.

The detail is such that you can read the set-list on Stephen Bennett’s Mac that shows that the early no-man track housekeeping was to have been the last song in the set. In the end, this song was only played on the German date, and an audio only soundboard recording of this performance plays whilst the picture gallery is displayed on the mixtaped DVD.

The Director, Richard Smith, deserves special mention for the way the live disc is presented. It’s free of un-necessary quirky / gimmicky fade-ins and camera tricks.  As someone who was at the concert, I feel that mixtaped serves as an honest and accurate reminder of that special evening.  For those who were not lucky enough to see the live show, and are maybe new to the bands music, this DVD is a perfect introduction to the music of no-man.

DVD tracklist:

only rain / time travel in texas / all sweet things / pretty genius
all the blue changes / truenorth / wherever there is light /
days in the trees (version) / lighthouse / carolina skeletons /
returning jesus / mixtaped / things change /watching over me

Oh, and before anyone pulls me up on the lack of capitals in the song titles, no-man are a band best experienced in lower-case, always.

disc two – returning

All too often, documentaries are tagged onto DVD’s merely as extras, and they often consist of a few soundbites tagged onto clips of the main feature. This is not the case with returning. Producer / Director Richard Smith has put together a feature that could have easily been issued as a standalone disc.

Steven & Tim in nomansland

The 85 minute documentary features contributions from all previous members of no-man, as well as collaborators such as current live band members and the man responsible for the bands iconic artwork, designer Carl Glover.

The most revealing parts of returning come from seeing Bowness & Wilson working together in the studio and from some of the painfully honest comments about the background to certain key no-man albums.

One particularly poignant section is where the departure of Ben Coleman is discussed, from Ben’s perspective as well as from Tim & Steven’s. The wounds still seem to be raw, which make Ben’s appearance in the live show particularly touching.

The only disappointment with the documentary is that the bands’s former label One Little Indian declined to take part, and that some no-man material could not be used in the documentary (wild opera‘s music had to be replaced by demo versions).

The new video for "back when you were beautiful"

The whole history of the band is covered, from the early days (including clips of a key 1989 gig) through to the recent schoolyard ghosts album. The collaboration with former Japan / Rain Tree Crow members Jansen, Barbieri & Karn is also covered, along with clips of videos and TV appearances from various points in the band’s history.

Disc two also includes the complete videos for several no-man songs, including a wonderful newly commissioned animated film for back when you were beautiful.

So, if you come to no-man as a curious outsider who is maybe a fan of Steven’s other band, Porcupine Tree, or as a long-time admirer, the mixtaped DVD is a must-have purchase, and one that stands up to repeated viewings.

View the mixtaped trailer:

Buy mixtaped at Amazon UK
Buy mixtaped at The Burning Shed

Visit the no-man website








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