Album Reviews

Issue 2022-081

It's Prog-Tober! 31+ albums and reviews in 31 days!

Twelfth Night — Smiling At Grief ... Revisited

42:12 (LP), 73:09 (CD), 107:43 (digital)
Twelfth Night - Smiling At Grief ... Revisited
LP: East Of Eden (Steven Wilson) (3:36), This City (Peter Jones) (3:17), The Honeymoon Is Over (Karl Groom) (2:31), Creepshow (Simon Godfrey) (10:12), Puppets Intro (Mark Spencer) (1:22), Puppets (Rob Reed) (3:15), Three Dancers (Steven Wilson) (2:52), Makes No Sense (Tim Bowness & Brian Hulse) (4:03), Für Helene II (Dean Baker) (11:04)
bonus tracks on CD: Puppets (Steven Wilson) (2:48), The Honeymoon Is Over (Andy Tillison) (2:42), Creepshow (Paul Hodson) (10:25), Puppets (Rob Reed, ft. Stuart Nicholson and Lee Abraham) (2:46), Three Dancers (Gareth Cole) (2:50), Makes No Sense (Mark Spencer) (4:17), East Of Eden (extended mix) (Steven Wilson) (5:00)
download bonus tracks (free with LP & CD purchase): Für Helene II (unedited first mix) (Dean Baker) (11:27), Puppets (instrumental) (Rob Reed) (2:45), Puppets Intro (full-length) (Mark Spencer) (2:52), Puppets (first mix) (Rob Reed) (2:45), Creepshow (Rumble Strips) (10:44), Makes No Sense (stripped back) (Rumble Strips) (4:01)
Mark Hughes

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of Smiling At Grief, the first set of recordings made by Twelfth Night with new vocalist Geoff Mann, the band wanted to do something special. Fortunately multi-track recordings of the sessions were still in the band's possession, so after stabilisation of the fragile tapes by baking, followed by digitalisation, it was decided to ask friends and peers if they would be interested in having a play with the recordings to create new mixes.

Smiling At Grief (cassette) As the album had never been released on vinyl, the original intention was to create an LP release featuring new versions of the tracks that had appeared on the original cassette, which fortunately would just about fit onto vinyl without any compromises in the audio fidelity. However, the response to the remix invitations was such that there was a surfeit of submissions. Hence the extended CD version and additional tracks that are available as download only (but are freely available from the band for those who buy either of the physical versions).

As well as remixing, the artists were encouraged to add any new instrumentation and vocals if they were so inspired. Proceedings kick-off with a powerful Steven Wilson remix of East Of Eden, with some extra muscle added to the verses and a greater degree of contrast added to the middle-eight. The seemingly ubiquitous Peter Jones took on This City and somehow found added depth to the keyboards, bringing to the fore a previously hidden synth line and giving the drums a new dimension.

The first song to be supplemented was The Honeymoon Is Over with Karl Groom adding some additional guitar and keyboards. The transformation is quite remarkable. A previously a rather straight-forward song has been suffused with a new energy, the additional guitars adding bite and aggression. To top it all, an alternative set of Geoff Mann vocals have been incorporated, with the overall impression being of a completely transformed song.

Creepshow is widely recognised as one of Twelfth Night's classics, so it is a brave person who would take on-board the task of tinkering with this one. Thankfully, Simon Godfrey has taken exactly the right approach, maintaining the core essence of the piece while strengthening elements where needed. The bass solo is much smoother than on the original, with Taurus bass pedals adding greater bottom across the piece and some additional Mellotron lines cropping up every now and again. Geoff's vocals have been enhanced with previously unheard vocal tracks, and the 'speech' sections tinkered-with to give the musical backing greater prominence.

Mark Spencer has beefed up Puppets (intro) with some extra keyboards and a keyboard choir, although I think the guitar has become rather lost. Likewise, I retain a preference for the original version of Puppets than the new version by Rob Reed, whose new bass and keyboard parts detract from the harsh, militaristic stomp as originally envisaged. A new guitar solo from Lee Abrahams is a fine piece of work and does fit in with the newly arranged version but, to my mind, again takes things too far from the original.

I always loved the more out-there pieces that Twelfth Night came up with, the stuff that didn't sit comfortably with the "progressive" label. And Three Dancers was a song that I always loved, even if the band, particularly Andy Revell, were not that enthused. As with Steven Wilson's work with many other artists, his new remix brings in a new clarity and brightness to the song.

Smiling At Grief (first CD release) Makes No Sense is the most radically reworked of the pieces, with Tim Bowness and Brian Hulse taking the whole thing apart and deciding to replace almost everything with new parts of their own making. In fact all that remains of the original are the guitar solos that have been pitch-modified to suit the new Bowness vocals. Apparently there are also some of Geoff's vocals from the original sessions incorporated but they are pretty low in the mix. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the track, it is a fine interpretation but I think it strays too far from being a Twelfth Night song, into the realms of a cover version.

The last track of the original tape and new LP is Dean Baker's remix of Für Helene Part II. His additional keyboards enhance the intro section and there are added beats to supplement the drums. The guitar section seems more isolated when it first starts, which adds greater contrast, and things sound rather freakier as the multiple guitar lines converge. The extra keyboard parts in the remainder of the song sound as if they were always there. Masterful. And the new ending is great!

The extra CD tracks kick-off with a Steven Wilson remix of Puppets which sticks closer to the original and brings the vocals much more to the fore, rather than sounding like they have been recorded through a megaphone. A third remix of Puppets, another Rob Reed production, also keeps closer to the original, although Stu Nicholson has replaced the vocals and a new guitar solo has been added by Lee Abrahams. The vocals sound rather flat, which actually suits the song, and the guitar work is more in line with the original nature of the song.

Andy Tillison's mix of The Honeymoon Is Over is a lot denser musically and the prominent guitar breaks are a lovely touch. He even adds a new ending that is a small slice of The Tangent added for posterity. Paul Hodson is the second person brave enough to tackle Creepshow and once again things are largely kept intact, although there is a great emphasis on keyboards in this version, with Hodson even adding some more of his own. I might actually prefer this remix to the one that appears on the album.

And what could be better than Three Dancers, other than Three Dancers with extra guitars! Gareth Cole's version adds a bit more aggression, and the acoustic additions to the chorus and the end of the track are inspirationally-sublime. Nice closing solo as well.

Mark Spencer has completely reworked Makes No Sense, playing everything on his version. Geoff Mann can be heard on 'backing vocals', his lines being taken from the original recording and expertly intertwined with Spencer's lead. The reworking is entirely successful, the essence and Twelfth Nightness of the song being maintained.

Last up is an extended mix of East Of Eden where Steven Wilson has taken his original remix but mixed in two additional takes of the guitar solo which had been captured on the multi-tracks. An extra 75 seconds of Rev soloing? Now that is not something to be missed.

Smiling At Grief - The Definitive Edition (2CD) The additional download tracks fall into the "not essential but nice to have category". We get a full and unedited mix of Dean Baker's Für Helene Part II and the first mix of Rob Reed's LP version of Puppets, along with a rather superfluous instrumental version. More interesting is an extended version of Puppets Intro by Mark Spencer; it would have been an interesting exercise to combine this and Rob Reed's instrumental, to create something absolutely unique.

The last two tracks are reworkings of Creepshow and Makes No Sense by 'Rumblestrips' (a pseudonym for project co-ordinator Andrew Wild). The former has a rather interesting intro and it would have been good to have maintained this more-out-there approach to the rest of the song that is pretty much unchanged. Makes No Sense has an openness and sparsity that suits the subject, although it really needs a different vocal take to totally transform the song.

So there you are. A rather novel way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of what was an expanded version of a tape put together to try and elicit record company interest. These new mixes/interpretations are a worthy addition to the catalogue and are certainly worth adding to the collection. Although the first vinyl pressing is all but sold out, a new batch (in red vinyl) is in production, so look out for that if vinyl is your thing. However, the CD is worth grabbing while there are still copies remaining.

Twelfth Night On

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