2006: W14/Universal 1704323
Id read reviews of this album which suggested it was really more a Mark King album than a Level 42 one, and I decided that was probably a pedantic criticism by those who believe Level 42 have a specific sound thats consistent over time (which I dont feel is the case). And in any case, Mark Kings a fine musician himself, and Im open to what hes cooking up.
I played it three times through the afternoon my copy arrived from Amazon. Not all of it is great, and its more than a little repetitious, but sometimes even that repetition is a subtle buildup of layers rather than a loss of way. The Way Back Home is currently my favorite track, as its oddly off-balance rhythm plods along in sad, lonely circles for just under 7 minutes; I kept thinking it was going to fade out anytime after 4 minutes, but the mantras kept feeding into each other and kept me hanging on for more despite myself. Each chorus iteration was like a painting being repainted and coming out slightly different each time while retaining some intrinsic identity.
Anyway, theres a lot of well-constructed fun to be heard here in addition to the somber indulgences. I quite like it. Plus Kings voice really is a smooth and strong instrument which hes learned to get the best out of over the years, so much so that I find it incredible that its not merely as good as it was 25 years ago but actually much better. He also multi-tracks to superb effect which obviously is helpful when youre the only remaining original member of a group to sustain the sound (if there is onesee above). Its also worth noting that I was surprised to discover it was King and not Mike Lindup providing falsetto vocals on certain of these tracks Id always thought only Lindup handled those. The choruses of Clouds arc Kings voice in duet especially beautifully and poignantly holding on.
Apparently we have Boon Gould to thank for the albums lyrics. They are a very interesting assortment, ranging from the brooding helices of The Way Back Home and Clouds to the jacked-up chatterfest of Sleep Talking and the kinda-works-kinda-doesnt stab at Americana trash life in Hell Town Story. While the latter makes me think of other artists attempts (Sheryl Crows All I Wanna Do, Francis Dunnerys American Life in the Summertime, Don Henleys Sunset Grill, and any number of others), it doesnt quite succeed or fail it just tells some stories almost compellingly but not quite. Still, King works and stacks the vocals perfectlyI love it for that. Another case of Rich Man, Poor Me.
The most profound lyrics on the album, at least on the surface, are those for Ship. When your ship comes in / will it be a galley full of slaves / or a sun-streaked schooner? Thats just a snippet; the song in full bears considering. But Rooted has more intriguingly interwoven threads that overlap in that genuinely elliptical way that makes me keep consulting the lyric sheet to see where that line, or something very close to it, was already used in the same song; the implications of its statements and qualifiers stacking up in this way make for a track I can really get my teeth into and savor. Theres religious feeling mixed in with unstable artistic and personal faith, all adding up to a picture of inconclusiveness rather than merely an inconclusive picture.
Ironically, its the title track that disappoints on all counts I get the point, but its just tired-sounding in all senses. Did you ever get the feeling this sun has set, King sings a little over a minute into the song, and I must confess I felt that way about this track that never quite decides where it lives and rambles on rather uninterestingly while it wanders around. It has a couple of nice lyrical lines but they dont go anywhere.
Comments © 2008 Mark Ellis Walker, except as noted, and no claim is made to the images and quoted lyrics.