"Tales from a not so Bleak House" - The Esoteric Records re-issue of Anthony Phillips' Sides album reviewed by Alan Hewitt. Memorabilia: TWR Archive.
By the beginning of 1979 Ant had released two albums which had cemented his credentials as a serious artist. 1977’s The Geese & The Ghost and 1978’s Wise After The Event displayed all the charm, elegance and sophistication that his fans have since come to cherish but sadly, by the time Ant came to begin work on Sides in 1979, the music scene, here in the UK at least, had changed beyond all recognition. The new Waves was having its (thankfully) brief day in the sun and amateurism and dissonance were the order of the day.
Frustrated at the hypocrisy of the very people who had been championing his kind of music a scant twelve months before and who were now decrying it in the most vociferous of ways, led Ant to originally think of calling the album “Balls” a worthy riposte to those dictators of fashion but wiser heads prevailed and, thankfully in keepingh with the sporting reference of the cover, Sides became the album’s eventual title.
If The Geese & The Ghost proved that Ant’s progressive credentials were alive and well, and Wise After The Event proved that he had a voice worthy of listening to (despite his frequent protestations to the contrary!) then what did Sides have to offer than and now?
Well, anyone who has ever heard the album will tell you that it is without doubt one of Ant’s most satisfying efforts out of his entire catalogue. Aided and abetted by producer, Rupert Hine, Ant’s vocals here are eminently tasteful and remain a delight after almost forty years.
The album was extremely well produced by the standards of its time but once again, the people at Esoteric Records have come up trumps with another improved version this time round.
The sheer variety of the material on the album from the acerbic wit of opener Um & Aargh and the deliciously romantic I Want Your Love, set the scene for a truly remarkable musical voyage. Ant even manages to preclude Phil Collins’ musings on the vagaries of divorce on his 1980 Face Value album in Holy Deadlock, a truly acidic examination of the subject with lyrics by Martin Hall. While the two instrumentals: Sisters Of Remindum and Nightmare prove that Ant can rock out with the verry best of them.
The true heart of the album though is the wonderful pairing of Bleak House and Magdalen, which remain to this day two of the finest songs that Ant has ever penned and kudos to vocalists Dan Owen and Dale Newman on these, they are among the best vocal performances on any album from a member of the band.
Once again, throughout the album especially on the new stereo mix and the 5.1 mix you are treated to much unsuspected detail, masked in previous versions. Once again, listening to the album now is a real treat and akin to hearing it again for the first time which, when you have heard something as often as I have heard this one is no mean feat I can tell you!
As we have come to epect from these new versions, a great deal of time and trouble has been taken in their creation. Not only on the album itself but also on the disc of extras which accompanies it. Alternative mixes, single versions and demos abound all accompanied by the usual erudite essay by Jonathan Dann including extracts from some of our very own interviews with Ant for TWR and its sister The Pavilion, along with detailed descriptions of the tracks and their evolution.
All housed in a lovely clam shell box including another lovely miniature advertising poster, this one is destined to become the definitive version of this album and if you think you know Sides, think again as this version will surprise and delight you and for those of you who are taking Sides for the first time… you will love it!
Anthony Phillips: Sides. Esoteric Records. ECLEC 42528.