Top critical review
12 people found this helpful
special effects (without loonatik and drinks)
on June 30, 2014
Let me preface this review for context - I've been a Peter Murphy fan for 25+ years, have all his works including the rare B-sides and bootlegs to Bauhaus, Dali's car and his solo career, and have seen him perform live more than 20 times solo and as part of Bauhaus. I have great respect for his work. Usually when I buy a Peter Murphy album, I give it a few listens and have a so-so opinion of it with my ear gravitating towards the songs which differentiate themselves the most from the rest of the album. After a few more spins I discover the secondary songs and nuances I didn't hear before that draw me in deeper. Over time as I play it more, my appreciation of the album grows as some of his albums are a little deeper than the average rock musician with layers of sound and lyric turning them into acquired tastes requiring more than surface level exploration and interpretation. 'Dust' is one of those albums. Not considered one of his better albums as it takes a trained ear to listen to it without the mind wandering, but as you grow that attention span you can be rewarded with some genuinely unique sounds. Then there are albums at the opposite end of the spectrum which are strong out of the gate void of weak spots anywhere in the lineup such as "Ninth", "Deep", and "Cascade". The album as a whole has a solid theme and the sound evolves as it plays on bringing the listener full circle by album's end. Then there's Lion....
What can I say? I really don't like "Lion". Having listened to the album 15 times and knowing Peter's work as intimately as I do, I have to say this sounds like a forced effort that just wasn't ready. The first two songs, "Hang up" and "I Am My Own Name" are both solid songs, but after that quality quickly tapers off into a mess of broken experiments. The overall impression I get is Peter is digging into his youth to the 1980's Bauhaus era and trying to re-invent that brash attitude, then bring it forward into the present day while trying to respect his British/Irish rock roots (hence the name "Lion"). It worked really well on his previous album, "Ninth", but unfortunately it sounds like Peter drowns out his own voice in overdubs, reverb, and whatever else you can put into a mix in Lion.
Every artist has a fallback knee jerk reaction they cling to when an idea just isn't working. In most cases the artist isn't even aware of it. In Peter's case he tends to emphasize a word or phrase and let his voice impress it upon the listener without backing it up with any strong ideas or lyrics by stretching and straining to whatever his vocals can handle. "Loctaine" is a good example of this as he repeats it over and over again ad nauseum. You can hear Peter strain in similar manners on songs in previous albums with the same lackluster result.
Lion starts out strong with "Hang Up" and "I am my own name" - both sound very in line with past Peter Murphy efforts and could've been included on his last album "Ninth". However, the third song "Low Tar Stars" is a complete U-turn and sounds very 1980's L.A. with the synthesized overtones and fast bouncy pace, but 1990's in the raw edges. In either case, it doesn't sound like a song Peter wrote. I would expect this from a mainstream band searching for top 40 fame in the late 1980's....and failing. Much could be said about the next several songs until you get to "The Ghost of Shokan Lake" which comes back to an earlier sound, but doesn't distinguish itself in it's own right. I had to turn off the surround sound on my stereo system to allow Peter's voice be heard through the curtain of fx. I suggest you do the same. "Eliza" - a much more energetic effort, but again drowned out by special effects to the point of becoming void of anything interesting. "Loctaine" sounds very tired and strained. Lion....like the album as a whole, doesn't differentiate itself very much from the lineup.
There really isn't much to say about Lion because it doesn't have much variety. When you listen to Peter's past efforts, you hear the sound evolve. "Ninth" is a good example starting from Iggy Pop, to standard Peter, to more somber at the end with raw energy in between. Lion doesn't even make an attempt to evolve. Every song but the first two sound like they were created in a void from attempting to reach the same goal from a different angle - every song is competing instead of complementing. This is where Lion fails. If I had to salvage Lion, I would start by stripping out the special effects and return to basic song writing letting Peter build it up with his performance. If there are enhancements to be made to the instruments, his performance will guide the way.
watching Peter on tour this go around will be interesting as the number of songs he sings live from the album is usually an indication of his confidence in the effort. Peter didn't play too many songs from 'Dust' or 'Unshattered' on tour. Dust has the excuse of the instrumentation requirements, but 'Unshattered' rarely gets the light of day outside of "idle flow". Peter tends to follow missed efforts with a re-interpretation to salvage. Think "Spirit" from his Bauhaus days, "A Strange Kind of Love" from his Deep album, or "A live just for love" tour where all the songs were re-interpreted. I expect a few cuts from Lion to get another look, or at least a remix to tone down the special effects and let his voice poke through.