Saturday, September 20, 2014

Rupert Hine - Unfinished Picture (1973 uk, intensive art prog smooth rock)

Typically, Pick Up A Bone received some good critical accolades, but sold very poorly. Still, Glover had enough faith in Hine and MacIver that he saw to it they got an advance on a second album. With the advance, Hine purchased an electric piano on which he and MacIver wrote most of the songs. As a result, the sound begins to change on Unfinished Picture, moving away from the folky Anglo-blues of Pick Up A Bone and into more experimental realms. Though recorded at A.I.R. London, the sound is also a lot more intimate than its predecessor. A lot of this has to do with the smaller cast of characters, with Hine on keys and acoustic guitars, Simon Jeffes on guitars, John G. Perry (then of Caravan, and later to join Hine in Quantum Jump) on bass and a succession of drummers including Mick Waller and Mike Giles. Even the orchestral arrangements (by Jeffes rather than Paul Buckmaster) seem smaller and more intimate. The fact that one of the orchestral tracks was recorded in a church rather than a recording studio adds to that intimate feel.

The tone of the music has changed as well. This album takes a definite turn towards the conceptual and cinematic, with a somber pipe-organ intro followed by a child’s voice saying, «One day…» Ostensibly a soundtrack to Anthony Stern’s* impossible-to-find feature film Wheel, it also takes on an altogether darker sound than its predecessor. The mix of whimsy and dark menace that was suggested on the previous album’s title track is fully realized here.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on the album’s opener, «Orange Song.» On the surface, it seems to be just a rhythmic folk guitar based tune with a swing feel, featuring some chugging cellos joining in in due time and later on, an instrumental bridge with raucous, squawking horns.

Moving swiftly on, «Doubtfully Grey» is similarly comical folk, but of a considerably less creepy nature. MacIver here equates a relationship with Darwinian evolution. And I get the distinct feeling that this particular tune was based on an actual conversation; the line «‘I don’t understand your songs,’ she said» is a dead giveaway. More MacIver wordplay, based on the song’s title, closes out the piece. The arrangement is for the most part very stripped-down, acoustic guitars and light percussion giving a slight samba feel. But a crescendo of keening strings at the end seems to pop in out of nowhere, providing a sonic link to…

«Don’t Be Alarmed,» probably the closest the album comes to the laid-back bluesy feel of  Pick up a bone. This one features drums and bass reëntering the picture, with a multiple acoustic guitar arrangement. Jeffes adds some Oldfieldian sped-up guitar and some skittering runs here and there adding an odd bent to the tune.

For «Where In My Life,» we start on a sharp detour away from anything resembling Pick up a bone at all. Hine’s vocal performance is at its most ethereal, fitting the music and impressionistic text perfectly. The backing track was built up entirely by Hine’s ARP 2600 synthesizer, presumably the same one he used on Caravan’s For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night album. Back in 1973, the all-synthesizer arrangement was quite extroardinary, and it totally works for the song. It’s here that we first get a (rather skeletal, admittedly) taste of what Hine would later do on his albums for A&M like Immunity.

«Anvils In Five» is undeniably the strangest piece on the album, and considering it follows «Where In My Life,» that’s really saying something. Recorded in a suburban London church, the backing track is wholly orchestral, building in dark intensity from beginning to end, finishing on a fortissimo pipe-organ chord (played by Hine). Hine recites the lyrics in a creepy, low monotone, words inspired by the five senses. Since there’s no melody to speak of, it forces you to concentrate on the text and the arrangement. Very much a mood piece, and definitely one of the more impressive moments on this disc. It’s followed by «Friends and Lovers,» a simple, intimate piano/vocal ballad. Recorded in the same church as «Anvils In Five,» it concludes with the sound of the piano lid closing, footsteps moving from one speaker to the next and a door being shut.

«Move Along» returns us, however fleetingly, to familiar territory, as it’s another Randy Newman-esque folk-blues number. Hine even pulls out the harmonica one last time. And MacIver is up to his old tricks, returning to the faux-Southern dialect à la «Ass All.» But Jeffes, it seems, couldn’t allow any of the pieces on this album have a «normal» arrangement, so the song eschews conventional drums altogether, substituting instead a battery of Latin percussion from famed sideman Ray Cooper. Here we get our first listen to that electric piano of Hine’s, Jeffes’ subtle sustained guitar notes adding extra colour to the sound.

The outlandishly titled «Concord(e) Pastich(e)» is probably the most intricate piece on the album. Beginning with a verse accompanied only by piano, Hine starts on a second, only to abruptly stop on the line «We used to run from here to over there,» which hard-pans from one speaker to the next. Then Jeffes’ arpeggiated guitar and Perry’s bass enter, overlaid by a second guitar playing a long, slightly distorted solo. After much deliberation, the drums and organ enter. The liner notes to this particular tune proclaim «Headphones are an extreme advantage,» obviously referring to Hine’s heavily treated and barely audible recitation over the long, otherwise instrumental balance of the track. The piece doesn’t end as much as it just stops, very abruptly indeed.

«On The Waterline» starts off with just Hine’s voice backed by his own piano. But anyone worried that this will turn into «Friends And Lovers: Part 2» should be consoled by the harpsichord and cymbal (the latter courtesy ex-King Crimson drummer Mike Giles) accents entering in the second verse. Actual drumming appears in the third verse, though still in a watercolour rather than rhytmic manner. At last the piece gains rhythmic momentum over the closing «All the children cry» refrain, mainly via Hine’s piano and harpsichord, with Giles still playing off the rhythm in a jazzy manner. Again, something of a mood piece, but for those who were put off by the lack of melody on «Anvils In Five,» this should prove immensely more satisfying.

So, who should go for these albums? Fans of Hine’s 80’s output are likely to find Pick up a bone a shocking experience, since it’s so far removed from what he did later. Unfinished Picture should prove rather less so, as some tracks («Where In My Life,» «Anvils In Five») are something like embryonic visions that later came to fruition on Immunity and its successors. Indeed, many of the more experimental moments of Unfinished Picture bore fruit not only in Hine’s own subsequent work, but also in latter-day expermental and «post-rock» acts like Radiohead.

That said, while Unfinished Picture is probably the more technically impressive, influential release, Pick up a bone is definitely the more satisfying listen of the two. Mainly because it offers a far more memorable set of actual songs. Fans of offbeat and unusual songs are sure to dig both, though.
1. Orange Song (Rupert Hine, Simon Jeffes) - 4:05
2. Doubtfully Grey - 4:15
3. Don't Be Alarmed - 4:54
4. Where In My Life - 2:21
5. Anvils In Five - 5:47
6. Friends And Lovers' - 3:44
7. Move Along - 4:56
8. Concord(E) Pastich(E) (Rupert Hine, Simon Jeffes) - 5:56
9. On The Waterline - 6:36
Music by Rupert Hine, lyrics by David McIver except where stated

*Rupert Hine - Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
*Simon Jeffes - Guitar, Bass
*John Perry - Bass
*Steve Nye - Piano
*Mick Waller - Drums
*Mike Giles - Drums
*John Punter - Drums
*Ray Cooper - Percussion
*Dave Cass - Trumpet
*John Mumford - Trombone
*The Martyn Ford Ensemble - Strings

1971  Rupert Hine - Pick Up A Bone

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