Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Great Albums: 48 - Secrets of the Beehive (David Sylvian, 1987)

Stripped down to their bare essentials, with Sylvian's soft as Andrex voice whispering huskily in the middle of everything and Ryuichi Sakamoto's string arrangements draped over anything left over, these songs are as near to perfect a collection as any songwriter has ever managed. 

When I was a stuent, my flatmate, Alistair, had the album, not the cd, and for some reason when he put it on alwyas started with side two. Which meant I always started with a track which is now mid-album, 'When Poets Dreamed of Angels'.  With fantastic spanish guitar and Sylvian's stylised, impersonal, velvet voice counterpointing a lyric about wife beating, violence and medieval poetic imagery, it felt like the place the album should start, rather than the actual first track, the brief, conversational 'September'.  Re-listening on cd though, 'September' is exactly right - sparse piano and a brief (just over a minute) sketch of a couple lying to one another in what I tend to assume is continental autumnal sunshine (the September sun - now 'so cold it blisters' is revisited in one of the last tracks, 'Let the Happiness In').  From there, the mood wanders up and down without ever settling on one, unless the faintest scent of nostalgic melancholy counts.  Which I think it does, not least because nostalgic melancholy is my favourite kind of melancholy.

Sylvian's voice is so high in the mix (in a good way) that at times he's almost all you can hear, which is no bad thing with a voice like his, but there's still space for Sakamoto's lush (damn, I promised myself I wouldn't use the word 'lush' in this post) strings and some lovely bursts of trumpet and what sounds like double bass  and jazzy piano(on 'Mother and Child'). He never did anything even approaching this good again, but most people never do so even once.

Spotify Album Link
Sylvian singing 'September' live, 1995

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