“Still” Tony Banks’ new album - a retrospective review by Phil Morris.
The anticipation that preceded the release of this album was amongst the greatest experienced, certainly in the last five years (prior to So and Invisible Touch) and probably not since 1979, before the appearance of A Curious Feeling we all knew the influence of Banks on Genesis.
After the widespread disappointment I felt with Bankstatement, from the obvious commercial inspiration for the name (I e the success of the Mechanics) to the poor cover and not least the content, questions and rumours concerning this LP were rife. Would it be Bankstatement II? Or the second coming of A Curious Feeling? Stories of nine minute tracks and the inclusion of Fish, but also Nik Kershaw abounded.
So, does the album live up to all the hype? A sampler was provided in the form of I Wanna Change The Score single and many hopes were further raised by its amenable nature, But, coupled with its B side, Hero For An Hour, also from the album, those hopes seemed to diminish. But excluding those tracks, the album still contains a good three quarters of an hour’s worth of music, plenty of time for Banks to prove himself once more.
The standard of musicianship and production (handled by Tony himself) together with Nick Davis, is as high as ever, but the band is not as stable as that on Bankstatement. The nucleus finds Daryl Stuermer continuing his Genesis association, but playing in a more retsrained fashion than we have come to expect; only occasionally is he allowed to open up and he does at times sound too restricted.
The album opens with Red Day On Blue Street, the first of three vocal performances by Nik Kershaw, who is the most used of the singers). It is a strong beginning, with a surprisingly strong political theme for a Banks LP although it was in fact Kershaw who wrote the lyrics.
Angel Face finds Fish once again working with Banks and in a rare position of singing someone else’s lyrics (Banks’s). Janey Klimek also reappears on this track, although her backing vocals perhaps detract form the basic structure that was originally intended for the song.
The Gift will be the first introduction for many to the voice of Andy Taylor of The Jazz Devils and he also provides the voice to the following track as well: Still It Takes Me By Surprise, which is probably the highlight of the set. A gorgeous piano-based piece, it features some of Tony’s best work, particularly his solo in the middle section. However, the instrumentation on the majority of the number is possibly too harsh - one could imagine that, over the course of a whole album, his voice would become a touch wearing, which seems to strengthen Banks’ case for the use of several vocalists.
The mood is spoilt by Hero For An Hour and this shows up a recurring fault with the album of a poorly put together running order. It is not a bad track, and Tony’s vocal is much as we have come to expect but it does seem almost a rude interruption in the shadow of its predecessor.
I Wanna Change The Score continues the lively pace but in a smoother manner than Hero… and Water Out Of Wine provides a further respite from the brashness of some of the faster numbers as Janey Klimek gets her first chance to sing out front on the album over a complex keyboard-based melody.
Another Murder of A Day is the epic of the album, clocking in at over nine minutes. Fish, this time provides both the vocals and typically verbose lyrics but the music is not as grandiose as might be expected. The track is essentially made up of three parts plus coda, of pretty standard fare.
Although a good move not putting Another Murder… as the last track, which would have been too predictable, and Final Curtain makes a good closer, interspersing them with Back To Back seems illogical. The track itself features some of Stuermer’s finest work on the album where he is allowed to play without the restraint imposed on earlier numbers and does so almost in a frenzy, although the fade out almost impolitely cuts him off in full flow. Vinnie Colaiuta also shines on the track with some marvellous percussive work, but despite these individual highlights, the track (with another Klimek vocal) just doesn’t gell compositionally and should really have been left as a B side alone.
The Final Curtain, Kershaw’s final song leaves the album on a high point,slightly sad in mood but poignant and of substance. The one Kershaw vocal with Tony’s lyrics, it shows that Tony can still write good lyrics despite the experiences of the majority of this and other more recent efforts.
Although a long album at 54 minutes, not all of these pieces deserve their place on a Tony Banks LP resulting in a release of inconsistencies. The great surprises are the exclusion of any instrumentals (a first for a Banks album) and the predominance of the piano (as opposed to the synthesiser) for such an attempt at commerciality.
I wonder whether the many complaints about the lack of value of the (so far) two singles from the album would have been appeased by the appearance of a couple of the weaker tracks at the expense of their inclusion on the album, thus making it shorter? Would the album as a whole seem better without them? Or would those who do not buy singles as a rule rather find them here, causing no temtpation to purchase said singles if these tracks were only on such a format?
You can’t please all the people… but Mr Banks seems to be finding it harder to please anyone judging by the decrease in his sales figures since his solo debut. This album is neither Bankstatemt II nor the natural follow-up to A Curious Feeling but seems to open up an interesting phase in Tony’s career. The wait for the next stage should prove worthwhile (if long).
Still is very close to being on the right track. As long as he write to please himself, rather than seemingly for commnercial considerations, he should also find himself pleasing more of us and ironically will then repeat the success that he has in the past achieved.