Eerie goings on filled with suspense and gothic romance…
Released through InsodeOut Music on 26 May 2017
Review by Paul H Birch
Following on from 2015’s Courting The Widow this new concept album from regular Steve Hackett live vocalist Nad Sylvan continues the tale of his 17th century vampirate. The direction it will head rather given away in the title.
On first hearing The Bride Said No one is unsurprisingly reminded of Genesis, their early period in fact. With further listening we find the story wrapped in its own themes with the biting crunch of a more modern synthesiser at work, and Euro-romanticism favoured over English nonsense. Something to be appreciated for its own worth, despite the contributing worthy parties being extended branches of the Genesis family tree such as Hackett himself, members of The Flower Kings and Spocks Beard, Tony Levin plus Guthrie Govan.
Sylvan is among those playing keyboards and guitar, alongside the well chosen addition of three female singers (Tania Doko, Jade Ell, and Sheona Urquhart) at various points collectively and individually across the concept album. In fact vocally they are the first introduced in the fading embers of the brief introductory musical ‘Bridesmaids’, where over a musical box or harpsichord the scene is set for eerie goings on filled with suspense and gothic romance.
There’s a quick about face turn as a staccato guitar riff emits a guttural “trokk” and drums cut through so sharply they literally smack you about the face as way of introduction to ‘The Quartermaster’. The melody line is picked out by a wailing sharp synthesiser between flips into a kind of Euro folk beat. It eases into ‘When The Music Dies’, moving from a slow dark blues pattern to something more akin a classic Bond theme with New Romantics flavourings, Sylvan’s voice seemingly treated with effects in places, his range growing as he sings self referentially and at one point you expect him to even rap. Co-written with Swedish writer and producer Anders Wollbeck it was written in memory of those musical legends who passed away during the time this record was put together, but fits into place naturally.
In terms of its concept storyline ‘The White Crown’ is a pivotal point with the music interchanging playfully with a dark undercurrent between Elizabethan masque and stoking riff, the pace steadily quickening until it becomes prog rock reggae; Sylvan’s voice leaping and contorting as the betrothed’s naive revelations are found both humorous and tragic. With bare instrumentation initially, a piano melody builds and church bells resound more like the last calling of mass than for a wedding on the questioning ‘What Have You Done. The melody ensues intricately then whereupon Sylvan sings the line “Where is your soul?” the female voice of co-writer Jade Ell enters the frame for a slow dance of the macabre with phallic symbolism present, if only in my own mind. Around the three minute mark we move in time to slow burning soul psyche pop, and then comes the guitar solo, or rather solos: Hackett’s is elegant and emotional, diving and swaying with assured grace before a perfect hand-off has Guthrie Govan taking the theme on in playfully spirited swooping form.
‘Crime Of Passion’ is Arabesque dervish swagger and sexy with it, being lyrically compelling over a heavy passionate bass line that moves towards proggier moments. Sheona Urquhart sings with Sylvan on ‘A French Kiss In An Italian Café’ and also takes an emotive saxophone solo. Deep reaching it is a slower a sultry continuation of the previous number’s groove.
‘The Bride Said No’ is a veritable suite on its own to end on. Each section denoted by Sylvan declaring: “The Bride said no.” followed by an overtly flanged guitar chord that singularly echoes Steely Dan. Between this we get orchestral passages, a synthesiser soloing over some rocking prog and a chilled Giorgio Moroder vibe I’ve not heard since Fashion’s Fabrique hit the airwaves half my lifetime away. Tania Doko adds the female siren sounds for this epic and in the finale – with a salacious undercurrent of the street harlot resounding- we find she’s “thrown away the white” even as Sylvan playing the role of the quartermaster groom declares he’s become too old, too slow, and yet his love for his vampire is still peculiarly heartfelt and he cheers her decision to leave him by declaring: “You go, girl!” as a guitar solo scales the heights, brushing out into a euphoric r’n’b funk prog rush before fading classically into the night.
While there were tracks I instantly liked on this album, repeated listening made the work as a whole more compelling. I’m not usually fond of multiple guest appearances but the performers where not subservient to the compositions embellish them without grandstanding. The choice of female vocal accompaniment is to be applauded, as too Nad Sylvan who steps out from the shadows to deliver something musically familiar but taking pleasing modern tones and giving us a concept album storyline that actually has something resembling a plot, one with a bittersweet twist.
- The Quartermaster
- When The Music Dies
- The White Crown
- What Have You Done
- Crime Of Passion
- A French Kiss In An Italian Café
- The Bride Said No