Review Summary: Bernard Butler was hailed as the best British guitarist since Johnny Marr. This fractured yet entertaining debut solo release from the former Suede man went some way in backing up such bold claims.
Brit-Pop was hardly a fertile breeding ground for the guitar hero. There is no doubt that many of the bands who rode the cynical marketing vehicle entitled 'Cool Britannia' could serve up a catchy tune or two, but guitar histrionics seldom took centre stage. One of the rare exceptions to this was Suede guitarist Bernard Butler who built up a reputation as one of the most capable and original lead guitarists to hit the UK scene since Johnny Marr. After featuring on the first two Suede albums, Butler became disillusioned with the constraints imposed on him within the band and broke off to record his first solo album 'People Move On'.
Butler's influences are quite obvious in some places on this album. It has been well documented that Johnny Marr was one of his heroes and the Marr influences were evident in his melodic rhythmic style on the first couple of Suede albums. He has stated that his method was similair to Marr in that he tried to distill complex layers of guitar parts down into a single part meaty enough to be effective on stage for a solo guitarist. This approach is evident on some of the more upbeat offerings on this record but listening to the opener 'Woman I Know' it appears that he wanted to make an immediate statement that he was well and truly 'post-Suede'. This ardent bluesy number pays homage to Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac and is quite unlike anything you would expect Butler to come up with when you consider his musical output up to that point. His impeccable tone and phrasing on the guitar lift the song as it floats along in a dreamy haze of restrained soulfulness. In a similar vein the extended track 'Autograph' greets the listener with a wash of slowburn emotion and serves up a showcase for Butler's blistering heavily tremeloed leads. Butler went on record in 2009 to blast reforming Brit-Pop and indie bands and stated that he was "obsessively opposed to nostalgia." Maybe he had forgotten some of the retro flavoured offerings on this solo debut when he made that statement but when they are delivered with such style it's easy to forgive the man his flirtation with hypocrisy.
There is little doubt as to Butler's prowess on the guitar but unfortunately his vocal delivery can be somewhat underwhelming at times. His breathy style suits the more low key offerings but when things are taken up a notch, as on one of the rockier tracks such as 'You Just Know', Butler struggles to cope and his delivery comes across with a thin and wailing timbre. Thankfully the almost ever present passionate guitar breaks and twangy fills go some way to paper over the cracks. Almost inevitably there are a number of tracks which fall squarely into the Brit-Pop camp and the jewel of these is definitely the Oasis busting 'Not Alone'. The song is archetypal of the genre with its string-section-in-a-bottle, hummable chorus and forthright delivery but Butler's pulsating lead breaks ride the ponderous melody and elevate proceedings beyond the confines of its familiar structure.
Butler had probably kept a lot of these songs in his personal closet for a while during his time with Suede and as such the approach varies quite noticeably from track to track. The lurch in styles can feel quite stark at times as we move from soulful blues to acoustic balladry and then on to hit-single Brit-Pop sugar. This reduces the album to merely a collection of songs with no coherent direction but as a showcase for Butler's considerable fretboard talents it stands up extremely well.