"Walls Of Sound" - Tony Banks' latest album, "Strictly Inc.", reviewed by Liz Mannering.

You can always depend on Tony Banks to produce an album very different from his previous offering, and "Strictly Inc." is no exception. If you liked "Still", then you will love this. Ten superbly crafted tunes, with noticeable paring down on the length and complexity of the lyrics in comparison to previous releases.

Over all "Strictly Inc." is a pretty upbeat album for someone noted for his doomy terminal songs, not so much "music to slash your wrists to" here! "Charity Balls", with its jibe at sleaze in high places and up-tempo (dare I say almost Ant Phillips-ish) tune is positively cheerful - jeep taking the Prozac, Tony!

"Don't Turn Your Back On Me" and "Something To Live For" both have a strong beat and are reminiscent of the best of Tony's work on "Still" and "Bankstatement". "Only Seventeen" is the first single release and it is in a very different style. A pretty slick animated video accompanies this track and this is the source of the caricatures that make up the album artwork. Apparently MTV have so far refused to play it! I can't say the song was an immediate favourite, it feels just a little too much like a desperate attempt at a dance hit single which seems to have failed if lack of local radio play and "special price" stickers are anything to go by. Possibly I am prejudiced by having heard it first on the CD single and being immediately set upon by the two "dance" remixes that follow. Remixes of this nature should be banned under the Geneva Convention - particularly the Saabson/Svenson one!

"The Serpent Said" follows, which is slower and heavier in style with some good moments of cynical humour in the lyrics. Jack Hues (ex of Wang Chung) sings on all the track and puts in a faultless performance throughout, singing particularly well on the two songs he wrote the lyrics for, "A Piece Of You" and "Strictly Incognito". An obviously talented singer, with a voice remarkably similar to Tony's but with a greater range, he is able to deliver both harder edged vocals and ballads with equal ease.

Sung with great emotion is "Walls Of Sound", a beautiful and deceptively simple ballad (I say simple but it will probably take me from now until some time in the next century to work out the chord sequence for the electronic piano part. Can anyone help - Tony himself perhaps if you are reading this, Tony?) which is in my view one of the best love songs Tony has ever written.

This track seems to be the only one on the album that Tony contribute backing vocals to, but don't let that put you off, they are very nicely done! I hope this song gets the wider audience it deserves [it will have been released as a single by the time you read this, Liz - AH.]. "Never Let Me Know" is another melodic bald with a more sombre feeling containing a restrained instrumental break.

Throwing caution to the wind is the seventeen minute opus, "An Island In The Darkness", which is quite simply stunning. Opening with a hauntingly beautiful piano solo, the likes of which we have not been treated to since the album "Duke", it is followed by an atmospheric song of sweeping synth chords and drum box percussion interspersed with piano synthesiser and guitar instrumentals and finally with a return to the original themes, softly played on the piano. It really is worth buying the album for this song alone. The track gains so much from the use of real piano - more of this, please Tony!

So there we have it. Sixty-three minutes of thoughtful and imaginative music. As no solo album is truly one person's effort (unless you are Phil "I played everything" Collins), final words of praise must go to those who contributed to the album: Jack Hues for his additional guitar work - a man of many talents. Nathan East, who provided very Mike Rutherford type bass sound, John Robinson for a very crisp drum sound, Daryl Stuermer for his restrained guitar performance, Nick Davis for his clear and well balanced production work , and finally Hills Archer Ink for their well produced and unusual artwork.