"Strictly Inc…. Delivers" - Tony Banks' new album reviewed
by Bill Brink.
Hey now, the buzz about this album was right. It is the best thing TB has done since A Curious Feeling (which I should note is my favourite Tony Banks album) and I think it will make a wider range of people happy. The songs are much more accessible for people who are not necessarily familiar with Tony's musical style. The vocals of Jack Hues are smooth and the best comparison I can come up with is Tears For Fears, in that they are strong without the rasp that comes with pushing a voice too far. The rhythms at work on many of the tracks get rather complex with all sorts of time signature changes that shadow earlier work like One For The Vine and Colony Of Slippermen.
The disc opens with Don't Turn Your Back On Me and it opens with a bang. Some of the tracks on this album have a swift crescendo opening that gets your attention. I would think that this track in particular has the potential for being a single. Very solid percussion, a catchy keyboard line; the works. A standout opener.
Walls Of Sound a piano/Programmed drum combo like some of the softer sections of Duke. This track more than any of the others fits into the higher end of the easy listening category with a lot of Phil's quieter pieces.
Only Seventeen is occasionally Mechanics-esque and sounds like the designated dance piece. It should be noted that it is also the first single to be released in the UK, it contains a radio and dance mix of the track plus the next track: The Serpent Said which has lots of Banks' signature chord progressions; heavy beat; serious transitions and the feeling of being a small epic. It touches on even more musical territory than Home By The Sea and employs some keyboard that sounds like they came straight from Dodo. Never Let Me Know is something of a lament, occasionally reminiscent of the XTC song by that name.
Charity Balls has a particularly upbeat tune with all kinds of rhythm; a vocal that sounds almost Cockney on its delivery at times, and some respectable electric guitar worked in. For reference purposes I would say that this reminds me of That's All and also has the potential for release as a single.
Something To Live For is a strong performance with sustained vocals that bridge over into large chordal changes somewhat like the music on The Lamb… during the Slipperman/Raven section. There are some backing vocals here that do sound like Tony. One of the credits on this album was Banks on the programmed percussion. Given the sound of this track in particular I would say he certainly knows what he is doing it is complex without getting too jazzy. Again, Duke comes to mind. A Piece Of You another slow love song also has a Duke feel to it ,both in sentiment and arrangement.
Strictly Incognito sets a frenetic pace with sections of staccato keyboards. The vocals are again strong and I'd have to say that Jack Hues does a very good job throughout with Tony's typically complicated lyrics being sung in a complex arrangement.
An Island In The Darkness is the album's magnum opus. It opens sounding like it was only slightly altered from A Curious Feeling. Steady electronic percussion a-la Duke with some soaring synth-guitar notes that are almost Hackett-like. The track has several movements and almost sounds like a mixture of best bits from his past albums.
All in all, this is a very good record. I found it much more accessible than anything Banks has done before, without getting too much into the realm of pop. Several of the tracks on this album should be "radio friendly" and I think it will do considerably better than any of his earlier material - well done!