"A Second Opinion" - Mike & The Mechanics "Rewired" album reviewed by Stuart Barnes.

OK, some background first. I like Genesis. I like Mike & The Mechanics. Heck, I even like Acting Very Strange. I also like Pink Floyd, Jean-Michel Jarre, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Kraftwerk and Mozart.

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Dale keeps a watchful eye
over the lyric sheets!
Photo S. Barnes/TWR
In 2003 I was lucky enough to attend an interview with Dale Newman at The Farm at the time Mike was writing and recording Rewired. On the mixing desk were the lyric sheets to Perfect Child. Dale was very wary about photos being taken of these sheets (and rightly so; although none of the photos with them in are clear enough to read the words).
Out of courtesy I promised not to reveal anything about what I had seen until the album was out.
As I wandered around the control room, I noticed piles of sample CDs containing loops, etc. I took some pics, made a mental note of what was on them and moved on.

After the interview, I kept wondering if these sample CDs were being used for Mike's new album. If they were that would indicate a serious change in the sound of the band.

Almost a year later, the album is released and, surprise, surprise, it's full of loops and samples. Mike has said that this album would be 'sonically adventurous' and he wasn't lying.

Oddly enough, I've been listening to this album a lot whilst 'rewiring' my own recording studio.........!

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Sample CDs and a copy of Perfect Child.
Photo S. Barnes/TWR

Anyway, enough of all that, here's my track by track review.....

One Left Standing
Lots of electronic sounds in this one and it's clear that this is the best candidate for a single with lots of vocal hooks. The 'Cher, I Believe' vocal effect is staring to sound a bit dated now. This song could have done without that. The backing vocals in the chorus bear a passing resemblence to the outro of Another Cup Of Coffee (they do to me anyway).
There are some nicely timed breaks at the end of phrases, with some interesting sounds and samples.
There is very little guitar in this song, but there is plenty else going on to keep your attention.

If I Were You
A different mood is set by this ballad. Opening with a simple guitar and drum machine it develops into some lovely synth chordwork and textures. The female backing vocal is a novel addition. Worth mentioning is the percussion sounds in the background throughout the song. They add a new dimension to the song.

Perfect Child
This song sounds like it could have been taken from either M6 or Beggar. The arrangement is more traditional Mechanics sounding. There is more guitar on this track.
Although it is an upbeat song, it draws an instant comparison with 'Living Years' in both sound (the chorus especially) and subject matter, although this one is more sickly sweet than moving, imho.

The underlying thing about this song is groove. From the moment it starts the groove is there. The heavy guitar sound is complemented by the backing instruments and sounds, yet at the same time there is space (the empty spaces during the riff are very effective). A very dynamic song, it goes from loud to quiet and back again smoothly. The vocal effects near the end fit the song like a glove. Industrial is the word I would use to describe this song.

I Don't Want It All
The arrangement to this song is more traditional Mechanics, although it does sound up to date at the same time. It starts off with a guitar riff and then carries on into a strummed verse when the vocals start. The song leads to a natural high point for the chorus, which doesn't disappoint. The drums have a human quality to them which helps give the song a feel of performance.

How Can I
The 'old piano on the radio' sound in this song is brilliant. Paul Carrack's vocals make this song seem to float along, taking you with them. Again, this is a traditional Mechanics song with a modern sound.

This song starts off with a synth effect and brass samples that wouldn't be out of place on a James Bond soundtrack. It then cuts away to a guitar line and vocal, which bear a slight resemblance to One Man's Fool. The chorus has a traditional Mechanics sound and is nicely intersected with electronic sounds and effects.

Somewhere Along The Line
Slowing things down again, this beautiful ballad rounds off the vocal side of the album in a fitting way. I agree with Alan H on this one. It should be a single.

Only one word can describe this; Fantastic.
The sounds used in this song make it a very close relative to Falling, although that is where the similarities end.
From it's slow ambient build-up the song hit's you with a weird guitar/synth hybrid squelch riff which is almost infectious. The riff then develops into a groove which is takes the song on to it's conclusion via some interesting dynamics (including distorted guitar). Some of the sounds and noises used are amazing.

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Overall this album is very, very different to Mechanics albums of the past. Some songs sound like Mike & The Mechanics and some songs don't. I played Underscore to a friend and he thought it was Moby. This album is certainly not 'more of the same'.
Groove seems to be the thing here. All the songs have a groove.
In many places it sounds as if the guitar is being used as a sound effect rather than an instrument. That's something that Peter Gabriel also does (I'm mentioning this as a good thing). In fact, take some time to listen to what is gong on behind the vocals and guitars and you will hear all sorts of weird and wonderful noises.
Personally I think that it is good that Mike is stretching out musically rather than playing it safe. The music business is far too full of music-by-numbers. It's time that someone did something unexpected and different to what they've done before.
The DVD packaged in with the CD is a nice addition, although the videos themselves are not to my taste. I didn't buy the album for the videos!

To the critics of this album I would simply point out the following:

How different sounding was.....?

A Trick Of The Tail compared to The Lamb?
And Then There Were Three... compared to Wind And Wuthering?
ABACAB compared to Duke?

It happens. Don't be afraid of change.