One of a very select group of TD works that include vocals (also 1978's `Cyclone', the excellent final track of 1985's `Le Parc', the 1987 soundtrack to `Shy People', and their recent release `Inferno'). This is probably the most commercial of those, and (as with Cyclone before it) provoked a very mixed reaction amongst fans.
- Alchemy Of The Heart
- 21st Century Common Man (Part One)
- 21st Century Common Man (Part Two)
- Tyger (Seven Inch Single Version)
The lyrics are taken from several poems by William Blake, an English poet and mystic who lived from 1757-1827. His work is esoteric, imaginative, prophetic, and deeply rooted in the social landscape of 17th-century England. The bleakness and allegory makes it hard going, which probably didn't do the album any favours. And yet the richness and imagery makes for an effective combination with the music.
The vocalist is Jocelyn Bernadette Smith, an American R&B singer with a rich, deep voice that's well suited to the subject matter. In fact, only three of the tracks feature vocals. Apparently she didn't always share Edgar Froese's vision of the project, which made the recording very hard work -- however, this doesn't show: the production is excellent, and the music powerful and evocative, balancing the vocals well.
The first track is based on what's probably Blake's best-known poem: "Tyger! Tyger! burning bright / In the forests of the night, / What immortal hand or eye / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?" (Well, it probably rhymed back in the 17th century...) A very strong track which really brings out the majesty of the beast.
`London' uses words from several of Blake's works: by turns gaunt, playful, and depressing. (It doesn't help that Smith doesn't know how to pronounce the river `Thames'...) The final, instrumental section is powerful and features some great Froese guitar work.
`Alchemy of the Heart' is a long instrumental track, bearing Paul Haslinger's influence. It starts with an almost hypnotic backing, and grows to be almost anthemic, ending with an uncharacteristically romantic piano solo.
`Smile' is another Blake poem, and makes good use of the lushness of Smith's voice.
`21st Century Common Man' (broken into two tracks on my CD) is a bonus track, apparently written a year or so after the original release. Both parts are more up-beat, with driving sequencer rhythms, and round off the album nicely.
All in all, one of my favourite TD albums. In style and sound, it's probably closest to `Livemiles' and `Shy People'. Don't let the vocals put you off -- it's a real TD album, and a good one at that.
(Incidentally, I believe the stylish cover is the first appearance of the circular `TD' symbol that now adorns all their works.)
2002. Andrew Giddings / UK