Well-matched AOR super-duo knock out their third, and warmest, collaboration. Sharp songwriting and tasty studio trickery abound.

Label: X2X Records
Time: 9 track / 53 mins

Think you’ve not heard of them? You may have done – especially Geoff Downes of Buggles, Yes and Asia. Chris Braide is less up-front, but he has produced a host of A-listers, such as Beyoncé, Lana Del Rey and Britney Spears.

So the duo has a strong ear for adult pop sounds with a rock / prog edge, and that is how this third collaboration comes across.

They somehow manage to string out the title track for eighteen minutes without stretching it to breaking point or tedium – just – using just about every trick in the manual, not least voice samples, production techniques and improvisation around the musical theme. Its scale matches the lyrical theme of the human soul looking for its place in the universe. The superb earworm chorus helps, the lyrics having as deep a musicality as the tune:
     How can I stop myself from falling
     When there’s nothing between me and the white, moonless skies?
     I’m trying to hold on, but I keep walking
     Into thin air, onto thin ice.

This third ‘association’ is their first using a human rhythm section. It pays off, bringing real warmth to proceedings, such as the fretless-sounding bass on “Glacier Girl,” a track that benefits from mandolin by XTC’s Andy Partridge (who also provides guitar for four of the nine tracks).

Other guests feature. The B-52s’ Kate Pierson adds an ethereal edge to the vocals on the title track. Marc Almond’s vocals grace “Skin Deep” and Big Big Train’s David Longdon makes more of an impression on the lovely “Tomorrow,” which also enjoys his folky flute.

“Lighthouse” seems to deliberately pick up some of the title track’s motifs, a trick that brings several of the album’s few tracks closer together – as does the brief, uncreditted finale that reprises the prelude.

For all the studio sophistication and themes about finding meaning, there is one letdown, where the lyrics to “Angel of your Shoulder” use cod-spiritual imagery to describe a dream girl, even getting her to replace the “God-shaped hole.”
But the overall feel is of a flowing, silky, sophisticated and highly cohesive grower of an album that is very easy to listen to. If you like melodic pop/rock with ambitions beyond radio filler, this is certainly worth investigating.

Derek Walker