Former Touchstone man returns with intriguing band project…
Released through Heavy Right Foot Records in October 2016 and heard with appropriate chin stroking by Paul Quinton
Rob Cottingham’s reappearance after he decided to quit Touchstone isn’t, perhaps surprisingly, under his own name, but as part of a new band, christened Cairo. I say surprisingly as his previous release outside his former band, the ‘Captain Blue’ album, was under his own name and was very well received at the time. That album, though, was made with the aid of some higher profile guest musicians, including Steve Hackett and Heather Findlay, but Say has been recorded as more of a band project, so in that way the rebranding makes sense.
The new band includes James Hards on guitar, Paul Stocker on bass, Graham Brown on drums, Cottingham himself on keys and vocals, and Rachel Hill on lead vocals. I think it’s fair to say that apart from Cottingham himself, these aren’t exactly familiar names to the majority of followers of his earlier work, and it’s an interesting decision for him to have gone in this direction. But for all the pre-release publicity that he was seeking a new sound, a lot of this album is recognisably a progression from his earlier work, both musically and lyrically. For example, the opening three tracks, ‘Cairo’, ‘Shadow’s Return Prologue’ and ‘Shadow’s Return’, comprising what is effectively a single, three part piece, include a spoken word prologue and return to two of Cottingham’s recurring lyrical themes, shadows and assassins. While ‘Cairo’ is an eastern tinged instrumental, in keeping with the title, ‘Shadow’s Return’ has an interesting Peter Gabriel feel, building some anticipation for the rest of the album.
Next track, ‘Wiped Out’ is a more aggressive song, in keeping with another stated intention, to work in heavier passages. It’s also a first chance for a proper listen to Rachel Hill, although there are some effects applied to the vocal on this song, it does suggest she may be a bit of a find. The title track, with a Cottingham lead vocal, and is identifiably one of his songs, with its slightly staccato verse, follows, and then there’s the centrepiece of the album, the 9 and a half minutes of ‘Nothing To prove’, which is also immediately followed by a three minute ‘Reprise’. There’s much more of a Prog Metal feel here, with a riff that reminds you of the heavier side of Porcupine Tree and extended instrumental passages. The ‘Reprise’ is more of a coda, with a sequence of effects capped with a keyboard riff.
After that, the album does tail off a little. ‘Katrina’ is a less substantial track, self evidently a tribute to New Orleans and the aftermath of the infamous hurricane, and incidentally the initial copies of the album include a bonus track of the ‘Breathe Mix’ of this track, which is more than half as long again, that like the parent track has some nice touches but doesn’t add a lot. ‘Searching’ is a slower song, but I have to say the lyrics aren’t some of Cotters’ finest work, whereas ‘Random Acts of Kindness, Part 1’ is far more interesting, with its edgier lyrics and an unconventional verse-chorus layout. It’s also a little less polished than the rest of the album, giving it extra atmosphere, which also works well. Good track.
‘Back from The Wilderness is another slower track, with a brief instrumental ending that threatens to turn into an epic guitar solo, but is cut off too soon, while ‘Dancing The Gossamer Thread’ is more of the same, but the lesser impact of these tracks, compared to some of the previous songs, does give the end of the album less of an impact
Overall, Say is an interesting debut. There’s plenty to like, but a couple of parts are comparatively underwhelming, and could possibly have done with a little more work in the studio and I don’t think the album as a whole does enough to give the band a real identity. It will be interesting to see where they go from here, but it’s good to have young Cottingham back making music, and I look forward to seeing how this music sounds played live.
7 out of 10
- Shadow’s Return Prologue
- Shadow’s Return
- Wiped Out
- Nothing To Prove
- Nothing To Prove Reprise
- Random Acts of Kindness Part 1
- Back From The Wilderness
- Dancing The Gossamer Thread
- Katrina (Breathe Mix) (Bonus Track)