Like being in the White Witch’s troika with a load of booze & fags, or finding out that Julie Andrews was really into the Elevators, this mix of teasing and haughty permanent winter could be fun and who fancies being wholesome anyway?
(Haldern Pop Recordings)
A tremendous record and one you need to get listening too, to be honest. The theoretically daunting task of sitting through a tale of lost love, shipwreck and hanging out with various underwater nymphs has never been so easy. Wendy McNeill likes to draw on her mythic side to create her records, which is fine by me; but I can appreciate that hearing a record built round a fairy tale – especially if you’ve not heard her work before - could grate. Luckily, despite all the otherworldly stuff, there’s a light and dextrous feel to McNeill’s music, like good chain mail, it’s tough enough to avoid any gauchness or fol de roy crap, and charming enough to allow you enjoy the ride.
It IS dreamy, Black/White (one of the strongest tracks) is something of a la de dah waltz round an old harbour and there are mood pieces like Oldest Dance or Longest Dance that are very soft and light on their feet. But there’s also a brilliant balance: like being in the White Witch’s troika with a load of booze & fags, or finding out that Julie Andrews was really into the Elevators, this mix of teasing and haughty permanent winter, (Toss It Away or Giver are good examples in this regard), could be fun and who fancies being wholesome anyway?
Now and again her work reminds me of the Bone Machine LP, the creaks and groans in Animal and Eddy are very reminiscent of that “locked in a shed with a load of old drill bits” lunacy that Waits conjured up and perfected. There’s something very artisan about it all which is very appealing. Normally I really couldn’t give a hoot about things like “musicianship”, (I was always into Patrick Heron or Babs Hepworth than all the Ruskin crap) but this concentration on creating and polishing very strong melodies and themes, and balancing simple songs with clever interjections and conceits is on this record a very, very good thing. The Kate Bush-like cooing in Our Time or the show tune harmonies in Flick of the Wrist never get too faery; rather it’s balanced against this salty, gritty competence that creates a very strong vibe indeed. You get the feeling she builds boats in her spare time.
Still if McNeill ever fancied a radical change there are opportunities to do so; I reckon there are some tremendous soul tracks here, underneath all the creaks, squeals groans and bangs: Picking Up Pieces, Beyond All Reason and Lions and Lambs could be made over into soul review classics, James Brown style. It all ends brilliantly, Giver and All These Wishes are tremendous, possibly the best things on the record.
So, a marvellous LP all told; a quiet classic and better than a hell of a lot of the competition. The sleeve’s pretty bonkers too. Get it.