Review Summary: The struggles of a local hero and his band...
Tim Bowness boasts a vast catalog of collaborations, at the heart of which currently lie his solo works. We received several classic moments on various albums he helped create or added vocals, but the gist of his visions was found primarily on No-Man’s songs. Since the project was put on hold for an indefinite amount of time, the man moved on and shared his own compositions to several friends for embellishments, thus creating some gorgeous LPs such as Abandoned Dancehall Dreams
, Stupid Things that Mean the World
or My Hotel Year
. The lush arrangements topped by often brutally realistic lyrics made for truly encompassing, eerie journeys.
Now, since we can expect a constant solo output, Tim brought us what seems to be the most intricate album penned solely under his name. Lost in the Ghost Light
details the life of Jeff Harrison, a local legend in UK’s Latchford area (where Tim was also born), who fronts an eclectic band called Moonshot. The events in the tunes take place in between 1967 and 2017, following the eccentric musician’s decisions and devotion to his music career although it fell through the cracks in time. Bowness gathered all the information he could find and created a biography of the group to clear his own concepts, but to be honest, the music is so rewarding you don’t necessarily need to assimilate these details to enjoy it. Creating a documentation of Harrison’s rise and fall is most likely to be rooted in David Bowie’s passing, whose music was essential to him. Nevertheless, the depths we witness here are a trademark of the man’s own stories, so we’re not witnessing a Ziggy Stardust copy.
Sonically, Lost in the Ghost Light
is the fruit of several seasoned musicians like Stephen Bennett (Henry Fool, No-Man), Colin Edwin (ex-Porcupine Tree), Bruce Soord (The Pineapple Thief) and Andrew Booker (Sanguine Hum), who act as the main core. Other notable contributors are classical composer, Andrew Keeling, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull as well as Steven Wilson who mixed and mastered it. Right from the beginning, we are warmly introduced to the story through a mellow, fretless bass-led rhythm, on top of which orchestral arrangements and keyboards constantly punctuate. Tim’s lovely voice is occasionally joined by Soord’s croon to create some beautiful moments, before the flute section slowly gives way to ‘Moonshot Manchild’, one of the LP’s two epics. Echoing a bit the piano leads of ‘Smiler at 50’, the track continues down the opener’s path, yet a tad darker in tone. The lush chorus feels like a ray of light in this bittersweet setting, however, we delve deeper with the hypnotic mid-segment, where Bennett’s keyboard layers drive the entire band. Breaking this steady pace, ‘Kill the Pain That’s Killing You’ features a busy drum pattern, syncopated bass lines and soaring guitar solos. They, along with percussion, a flute and string quartet offer this exotic, jazz-bordering vibe. In the story, this track represents the anger provoked by his wife cheating on him, therefore causing our main man to lose control during one of the tours and temporarily lose interest in music.
Halfway through, one of the highlights, ‘Nowhere Good to Go’ offers us some of the most subdued minutes, leaving the quiet acoustic guitar strums to lead forward, joined by a sparse rhythm section and synth pads. There’s a certain soothe here that finds its way out of the gloom as you sway along with Tim’s dreamy voice. The 9-minute centerpiece, ‘You’ll be the Silence’ focuses more on the story, whereas the orchestral arrangements and piano lines gently accompany the narration. Harrison enjoyed by chance some success in mainland Europe in the early 80s as a progressive pop act, finally paying off after years of struggle. Still, trends changed quickly and Moonshot was left behind as a cult band, touring the area to a small yet dedicated audience. Losing relevance is the main concern on ‘You Wanted to be Seen’, switching the pace midway from slow to mid-tempo as a sign of growing frustrations. The mesmerizing keyboard leads are enhanced by a gradually growing distortion behind them, only to deflate like a balloon when our character loses hope. This is why ‘Distant Summers’ is a slightly surprising end to this bleak album, as it offers a spark of light and a reminder of the fun beginnings in the ‘60s when there were no expectations and they played what they wanted, not what was cool at the time. There’s a sense of gaining clear perspective too, thus offering Jeff a chance of a personal comeback to be proud of himself again.
I believe Tim thoroughly enjoyed the entire process of discovery, laying down all the ideas on paper and then finally on record. He has always been very passionate regarding his stories, so this excitement was clearly the main driving force. Even so, Lost in the Ghost Light
is deprived of some of the dynamics Stupid Things that Mean the World had. The album itself is very rewarding, but a bit too laid back for its own good. The arrangements are meticulously detailed, still I was hoping for some harsher tracks a la ‘Great Electric Teenage Dream’ or ‘Press Reset’, which were significantly more intense and surprising. Even so, I admire Bowness for creating this project and the focus on different emotions and subtle details, intertwining them with a vast array of sonic moods in the gorgeous melodies. This is why I feel the LP works better when listened to a whole, plus reading the entry on his website on Moonshot helps gaining an overall perspective right from the beginning. Maybe it won't be an immediate favorite, however, it is a really charming album.