Issue 2018-053: Phideaux Special
Phideaux - We Only Have Eyes For You
We Only Have Eyes For You is Phideaux’s first release for a number of years and is an EP that contains alternate takes and live tracks from his soon to be released Infernal album.
Infernal is to be the final part of a trio of albums, which began with The Great Leap released in 2006 and continued with Doomsday Afternoon released in 2007. Infernal has been a long time coming. It was first expected in 2013 and after numerous delayed release dates, it appears that it is finally ready to be released later this year. Based on the set of fantastic tunes contained in We Only Have Eyes For You, Infernal promises to be an automatic buy for anybody who has enjoyed Phideaux’s previous works.
We Only Have Eyes for you combines the best aspects of Phideaux’s music into an attractive package of seven compositions, which display the full extent of his art. This set of delightful tunes includes many of the stylistic traits that have made Phideaux’s work so captivating over the years. Each tune compliments the other and the carefully chosen running order gives it the feel of a first half of an album, rather than a random set of alternate takes.
The tunes are largely song-based and combine hooks and memorable choruses with identifiable prog elements. Perhaps even more importantly, there is an innovative air to much of the work on offer. The twisted cathedral crypt chanting that makes an unexpected entry during the delightful Protect The Order and the subtle instrumental sections of The Sleepers Wake exemplify the unpredictability and creativity that lie at the core of many of the tunes contained in this release.
This type of approach makes the music of We Only Have Eyes For You a perfect amalgam of the more straightforward indie/art rock inspired style apparent in many of the tunes featured in The Great Leap and the more overtly progressive elements, which make up much of Doomsday Afternoon.
Phideaux has a great ability and intuitive knack for writing a lyric and delivering it in a manner that lingers in the memory, long after the tune has passed. We Only Have Eyes For You possesses many memorable lines and tuneful refrains that stubbornly will not budge from the consciousness. These help to ensure that the EP is a compelling and thoroughly satisfying experience.
The first track on offer and title track of the EP contains an abundance of these vocal nuances; all enunciated in an immediately identifiable and satisfying style that will be familiar to anybody who has heard Phideaux’s work before. The tune begins with the words "You better run you better hide"", delivered in a style reminiscent of much of the material of The Great Leap. Later, the beautiful refrain, "Pink and yellow, yellow and pink" also provides a memorable image. The expressive manner used to deliver this poignant line, is so typical of how Phideaux can give a simple phrase a powerful meaning and ensure that its message is delivered in a poetic manner.
Another hallmark of Phideaux’s compositional style is the way in which he arranges his music for maximum dramatic effect. Female vocals are utilised as a stark contrast to his own. In Dissonance We Play contains some particularly fine interplay between the various female vocalists and Phideaux. The distinctive tonal qualities of male and female voices are used to good effect to maximise the impact of the excellent lyrics. Some of the musical themes that were apparent in Doomsday Afternoon are also in evidence during the guitar solo in the final part of the track.
The Sleepers Wake is an excellent tune that contains some gorgeous cello parts, floaty synths and persuasive female vocals. It also has many subtle instrumental embellishments that are reminiscent of the mood and some of the musical themes contained in Doomsday Afternoon. To cap it all, it also includes another of those memorable Phideaux refrains that makes the spine quiver and the legs tremble, when he emotively croons and warbles a heartfelt plea to "keep it pure’
The most accessible tune and probably the most beautifully constructed one is Through The Clouds Again. Its opening moments are particularly beautiful and it is later able to combine a Floyd-ian feel with some of Phideaux’s trademark sound. In this tune, Phideaux uses another of his trademark effects by repeatedly using a single word in this case ‘again', to produce a hypnotic effect. Through The Clouds Again is not a particularly adventurous or challenging tune, but both its mesmerising nature and recurring chorus is able to cast a thoroughly enchanting spell that is difficult to ignore.
Through The Clouds Again sums up why Phideaux’s music is so utterly bewitching. He has a great talent of being able to write and deliver a unique combination of styles. In this piece, he has created a relatively short, yet memorably hummable tune with prog elements. However, he is equally at ease, as in the case of his Doomsday Afternoon album, of evolving and developing longer compositions within a progressive suite, with accessible tuneful elements. It is a tremendous gift and is an essential element of how Phideaux’s music can appeal to a varied audience of differing tastes
We Only Have Eyes For You indicates that Phideaux has lost none of his gifted ability to deliver music that satisfies both the heart and the head. Given the quality of this EP, it is clear that Phideaux’s forthcoming Infernal release is going to be special. Read on!
Phideaux - Infernal
Side 2: We Only Have Eyes For You (4:00), Sourdome (1:31), The Walker (4:39), Wake The Sleeper (1:30), C99 (3:25), Tumbleweed (4:58)
Side 3: The Order Of Protection (One) (4:35), Metro Deathfire (4:58), Transit (1:14), In Dissonance We Play (2:49), The Sleepers Wake (5:22), The Order Of Protection (Two) (4:33)
Side 4: From Hydrogen To Love (14:04), Eternal (5:46), Endgame - An End (3:29)
Something about Phideaux’s work often immediately appeals. The music Phideaux ‘discovers’, unequivocally declares that it comes from somewhere deep within the composer's heart. His latest creation is no exception and strongly affirms this, in an album that contains a plethora of heartfelt melodies and numerous progressive twists.
Infernal is the final instalment of Phideaux's trilogy of albums that began in 2006 with The Great Leap (reviewed on DPRP here). In 2007, the second part, Doomsday Afternoon, appeared. (Duo Review here.) Since then, Phideaux has released Number Seven (read the review here) and Snow Torch (check out our Round Table Review here), but Infernal marks a return visually, lyrically and musically, to the dystopian warnings of a twisted ecological world, that was central to the earlier parts of this trio of albums. Infernal impressively and satisfyingly bridges a gap that strikes a balance between the shorter compositions of The Great Leap and the longer themes and art rock expressionism of Doomsday Afternoon.
Infernal portrays a wide range of feelings, including fear, anguish and despair, but ultimately, it concludes with hints of hope for the future of humanity and of the planet. It is a worthy successor to Doomsday Afternoon, and overall is a dynamic experience that is able to transport the listener to places unimagined, somewhere inside the recesses of the mind. It is by turns cacophonous and challenging, melodic and memorable. At its best, it is simply beautiful and mesmerising in every respect.
The powerful and expressive use of Valerie Gracious's voice is an outstanding feature of the release. These include numerous passages that exploit the variations in pitch that her voice can deliver. The strength of the majority of the female vocals offers an excellent contrast with Phideaux’s own fine vocal performance with a number of delicate vocal interludes provided by both Gracious and the other female vocalists.
The album has many layers that wait to be unpicked and with careful listening overtime readily reveal themselves. These create a stimulating and long-lasting listening experience that remains fresh even after repeated plays. I have found something new and different to discover on each listen and it has been a joyous experience linking some of the themes contained in Infernal, albeit in a different form, or with a different mood or emphasis, to those contained in the music of both Doomsday Afternoon and The Great Leap.
Similarly, I have enjoyed trying to identify the numerous influences that Phideaux brings to his art. There are interludes in pieces such as Metro Deathfire where a trumpet emerges, or a memorably melodic arrangement breaks out. These instances reveal Phideaux’s admiration of the Sgt Pepper era of The Beatles. This is further emphasised by the acutely melodic type of song writing that is in evidence in tunes like Eternal and in the number of harmonically rich interludes throughout the release, which channel Lennon and McCartney’s gifted penchant for agreeable melodies.
The influence of Ian Anderson is recognisable on a number of occasions, Phideaux uses similar techniques of repetition of phrases, words and melodies, as Ian Anderson employs during Thick As A Brick. The melodic tune featured in the recurring _ order of protection_ theme that occurs in Infernal acts as the glue to bridge different passages of music and to hold extended pieces together. Just as in Thick As A Brick, this technique works commendably well to give Infernal an identifiable air and a feeling of continuity.
If you listen carefully, at the end of The Error lives On, there is a direct homage to the work of Anderson. With phrasing borrowed from Tull’s Warchild, vividly capturing a quintessential English attitude in the face of adversity; the phrase "Would you like another cup of tea, dear" emerges from the depths of a range of murky effects.
At other points in the album artists as diverse as Genesis, King Crimson and the snarls of Alice Cooper come to mind. There is something about the main musical theme of Doomsday Afternoon’s Microdeath Softstar revisited on a number of occasions throughout Infernal, that has a slight hint of the flavour of King Crimson’s Larks Tongues in Aspic’s signature motif.
Here in lies one of the great strengths of Phideaux’s art. His music wears the influences of classic prog on its sleeve, but combined with a whole range of other types of contemporary and alternative music, he is able to create something that, in the end, is beguiling, very bewitching and unique.
Although primarily a group effort with numerous examples of excellent ensemble playing, unusually for a Phideaux album, it also features a number of fine solo passages particularly on keyboard and guitar. These sparkling interjections give the album an extra instrumental dimension and a tempting allure that was not readily apparent in The Great Leap, but was present to some extent, in lengthier pieces such as, Formaldehyde in Doomsday Afternoon
A gilt-edged mixture of strong song writing, solid playing, virtuoso keyboards and Gabriel Moffat’s stunt guitar posturing helps to ensure that Infernal will appeal to anybody who enjoys accessible music that blends art rock and prog in an exciting and unpredictable way, yet often is contained within an enticing, melodic package.
There are many highlights amongst the nineteen pieces of the release. The compositions feature as four distinct sides, to match the sides of a double LP. In the CD version, CD 1 contains sides one and two and CD 2 comprises sides three and four. The CDs are presented in a slip case as miniature LPs.
The album is beautifully packaged and the fantastic series of paintings created by Molly Ruttan included in the booklet, help to inform and stimulate both the musical and lyrical content of the release. The paintings draw inspiration from both Dali and Bosch. The images are fascinating and have an important role to play in the portrayal of the album's concept and overall message.
There are no weak moments or disappointing arrangements over the course of this lengthy release, but as might be expected with a work of this breadth, some pieces are initially more satisfying. The stronger pieces include C99, Inquisitor, We Only Have Eyes For You, The Sleepers Wake, and From Hydrogen To Love. However, individual pieces, although they might be heard as stand-alone tracks, should perhaps be best analysed overall within the context of the release as a whole.
In this way a number of tunes such as, Crumble, The Order Of Protection (One), and Transit revisit earlier musical, or lyrical themes, or act as short interval tunes offering the listener a chance for reflection and to draw breath.
In the course of compiling my thoughts about Infernal, I have deliberately tried not to laboriously describe each piece on offer. The tunes each have a part to tell, in a larger musical, visual and lyrical narrative and that story is uniquely revealed, by listening carefully to each one and interpreting it in whatever way a listener chooses.
What I can say with great confidence, is that this is a superb release and will undoubtedly feature in my best of list for 2018.
Whether your penchant is for longer extended prog like pieces full of unexpected twists, exemplified in the album by the superb art rock epic From Hydrogen To Love, or short quirky interludes revealed in tunes like Wake The Sleeper, the album will undoubtedly contain numerous things that will appeal.
All that there is left for me to say is, Phideaux is back. If you let his music caress your body, warm your heart and stimulate your mind, I can assure you that you will not be disappointed!