NDO Records [Release date 04.11.13]
This is an intriguing release from the highly-talented Geoffrey Downes, or Geoff Downes as you know him, erstwhile keyboard tinkler from Asia and Yes. New Dance Orchestra is an ongoing project but to my knowledge this is the first time Geoff has employed a vocalist extensively.
And when this is award-winning Anne-Marie Helder (Panic Room, Mostly Autumn), you know it’s going to be something a bit special. Previous NDO releases have actually been more akin to library music so Anne-Marie’s input provides a warmth and humanity otherwise sometimes lacking.
The album was originally sold on the merch stall during recent Yes tours and now gets its first general release. Downes has performed and produced throughout. Lovers of his previous instrumental releases will not be surprised but, frankly, others might be slightly worried as the vibe takes us back to the eighties and is essentially upbeat, dance-orientated, and synthy.
Throughout there are indeed echoes of another era, and Mike & The Mechanics (Hanging By A Thread) and even soulsters such as Shalamar (Remember The Day) are referenced whilst I am sure I have heard ‘Jinx’ somewhere before in my addled memory banks – attractive as it is. We should remember that Downes achieved great success peddling early eighties synth-pop with Trevor Horn in The Buggles so I am sure these are quite natural influences and inflections.
Any listener reticence is more likely to be fuelled by the realisation that such great work doesn’t these days receive a much wider audience. However it does remind me that Geoff’s other side-project (DBA) released in late-2012 was similarly quite marvellous but criminally overlooked. (Note to self: Don’t release your album in the last two months of the year).
Whilst the added vocal sheen adds interest I can’t help thinking that the all-synthesized approach might have been helped along by an organic drum or two or a funky electric guitar but that is probably totally missing the point. In short it is a keyboard-led tour de force and the pace never really flags. There are several tracks here that are radio-friendly such as ‘Forgiven’, ‘Movin’ On’ and ‘Love Is Not Enough’ which features outstanding vocal harmonies from Ms Helder.
‘Electronica’ has already received a warm reception from those early merch sales and of course lovers of Downes’ work generally will be impressed. Others may find it all too redolent of a bygone age when the synth drum like the auto-tune today was de rigueur. Thankfully, Anne-Marie’s vocals don’t need the auto-tune treatment and the synth drum only appears on the opening track ‘Shine On’. They don’t make them these days like they used to. Thank The Lord for Geoffrey Downes. ***1/2
Review by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
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