Provogue [Release date 22.03.19]
Robin Trower’s conceptually titled ‘Coming Closer To The Day’ offers a big clue as to the introspective nature of an album on which his guitar playing makes the biggest impact.
His vocal are a problem. He may well have moved centre stage a few years ago to handle all his own vocals and tackle some deeply personal lyrics, but a succession of mid-paced outings don’t leave enough room to go beyond a handful of slow rising solos that are interwoven in the fabric of a track, but never really take them anywhere.
It makes for a testing output for fans who still yearn for just a glimpse of Trower’s trademark big note flurries.
As it is, there’s a few fleeting reminders of what used to be, as on the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ intro to the title track, which gently hovers over an intricate stuttering drum part as Trower adds his exquisite tonal palette.
There’s also a Hendrixy intro to ‘Tide of Confusion’, but it’s not matched by the rest of a pedestrian track that is only counter-weighted a spiky solo that works hard to ignite a languid track with a contemplative hook.
‘Lonesome Road’ is better, striking a balance between a bluesy groove and some expressive guitar lines, but a lack of clarity of diction robs us of some of the lyrical meaning. That said, his extended solo gives the track the kind of focused intensity too often missing in the album as a whole.
He adds a slightly more aggressive vocal attack and wah-wah break on ‘The Perfect Wrong’, on a good example of a tone drenched drone groove, which in this case gently drops down to feel more like a snapshot rather than a full musical journey.
The opening ’Diving Bell’ sets the tone for the album as a whole, and is a metaphorical return to the subterranean feel of ‘Song For A Dreamer’ from his Procol Harum days. Much like the later ‘Ghosts’, it derives its potency from Trower’s ability to evoke lyrical meaning and nuance from his guitar tone and tasteful solos.
The listener has to dig deep to get inside the solos and several slowly evolving grooves to find the kernel of an album that smoulders, but never catches fire.
‘Truth or Lies’ is a good example, as he lets the song breathe and percolate with gentle bv’s and big toned presence, but just as he leans into the solo it’s all but over.
If there’s a spiritual thread at the core of the album, it’s one he only alludes to fleetingly, while the jazzy ballad ‘Little Girl Blue’ is full of resonating notes, but he doesn’t quite have the vocal phrasing to pull it off.
In sharp contrast, on the love song ‘Don’t Ever Change’ his guitar playing cut through as a welcome flinty presence, and he belatedly cranks up his tone on ‘Take Me With You’, on a final guitar solo full of clarity and precision.
The tub-thumping groove also underpins some colourful lyrics: “Looking for the silk road, Marco Polo for my guide” and “Never seen the Hindu Kush, but I sure am gonna try, far horizon out of reach, mountains growing up to the sky.”
Perhaps the biggest problem with this album is that off too many similarly paced songs and a rudimentary vocal style that doesn’t lend itself to the kind of dynamics needed to lift the album and give it a natural flow.
The splendidly titled ‘Someone of Great Renown’ for example, is far more interesting when heard alone outside of the album as a whole, as it simply sounds too much like what’s gone before.
Long time fans will doubtless revel in Robin Trower’s enveloping tone colour and his on going songcraft, but this slow burning album demands much patience from the rest of us, as it only sparingly suggests hidden treasures. ***½
Review by Pete Feenstra
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