No-Man
Swagger: Lost Not Lost Vol. 1, 1989-1990


3.8
excellent

Review

by Raul Stanciu STAFF
January 31st, 2024 | 3 replies


Release Date: 01/26/2024 | Tracklist

Review Summary: No humble beginnings.

Despite following different paths over the years, Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness’ brainchild No-Man persisted throughout the decades. When everyone thought it was over, the duo returned with 2019’s Love You to Bits. It harkened to their original synth pop days, a major departure from the subdued ambient-laden works from the 2000s. Looking back, it feels as if they were a different band when they started, only Wild Opera tying the two eras sonic-wise. This year, the Housekeeping box set was released, chronicling their 1990-1994 output with various rarities and radio sessions added to it. Alongside comes Swagger, a collection of tracks recorded prior to signing their first record deal with One Little Indian. It also features violinist Ben Coleman, who became an integral part of the first No-Man era.

By 1989, the group established a sound of their own, that can be loosely summarized as a combination of nostalgic piano chords with disco beats and occasional guitar washes. An emphasis on atmosphere can be noticed right from the beginning of their career, bringing several other influences to the mix. You can hear Wilson’s penchant for Pink Floyd, which led to Porcupine Tree’s psychedelic output in the ‘90s. Meanwhile, Tim’s ardent vocals come closest to Japan’s David Sylvian, delivering here some of his most heartfelt performances. Swagger was initially released as a 4-track cassette EP, but here we are offered five more, completing what would be in their own words an “alternate universe debut album”. I often felt the trio were ahead of their time and releasing this in 1989 to a wider audience might have had a different impact, who knows. They had brushes with the mainstream later, yet they were too moody for the radio. Nevertheless, for any No-Man fan this is a must listen, as the project started really strong. Opening with “Flowermouth”, which bears no sonic relation to the eponymous LP, we can hear an aggressive drum and bass rhythm, complete with violin leads, as well as distorted guitars. During its second half, melodic parts are introduced as Bowness alternates between spoken lyrics and passionate sung verses. Moreover, “Bleed” grows from a ballad with minimal arrangements to punchy funk rock grooves. Another highlight is “Mouth Was Blue”, blending melancholic piano with driving guitars, whereas Tim sings his lungs out. It is a shame this was not included on their debut album. On the other hand, “See No Angels” brings forth dub stylings, boasting smooth, mid-tempo bass lines with discreet synths and keys, leaving the front man to add further charm to it.

The other side of Swagger displays several hints of future directions, “Curtain Dream” featuring only ethereal guitar chords, while “Sit Silent” makes good use of reverb, sounding like the band’s take on late Talk Talk ambient moments. Also, “Life Is Elsewhere”, a track Tim wrote with Brian Hulse for his previous act, Plenty, shares dreamy pop hooks, along with Coleman’s lovely violin touches. It is interesting to hear this diversity brought together into one cohesive collection. Still, this remained a key element of No-Man’s output. The band managed to put their trademark sound on whatever style they felt approaching. As Love You to Bits saw the light of day, Swagger takes further steps, coming full circle almost 40 years later with the art/synth pop stuff. Perhaps fewer fans who discovered them in the ‘00s have dug this far into the catalog, however, this record provides an insightful look at how the trio developed their chemistry. Although active only for a couple of years at the time of recording, these songs are as strong as the LPs that would follow.



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user ratings (4)
3.3
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
insomniac15
Staff Reviewer
January 31st 2024


6165 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

Unfortunately, there is no full stream available at the moment.



"Life Is Elsewhere" - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnNpwMoOMJ0

"Mouth Was Blue" - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMWTyXuseRQ

The original Swagger EP - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmsMoyR7DH4

DrGonzo1937
Staff Reviewer
February 3rd 2024


18240 Comments


excellent review mate. will check shortly.

insomniac15
Staff Reviewer
February 3rd 2024


6165 Comments

Album Rating: 3.8

Thanks, they added the record on Bandcamp in its entirety - http://no-man.bandcamp.com/album/swagger-lost-not-lost-volume-one-1989-1990



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