Frontiers Records [Release Date 12.03.21]
With Gary Hughes having just released his first solo album in a long while, the simultaneous release of this generous 29 track double compilation is very timely as an opportunity to discover (or rediscover) the Ten man’s solo back catalogue.
The package is nicely done with a grateful thank you letter from the man himself, pictures of his changing tonsure over the years, and an in depth appreciation of his career in which I discovered facts I never knew such as that he attended the prestigious Royal Northern College of Music. The only trouble is that the small and illegible typefaces on the CD left me regretting my missed eye test in lockdown.
The sequencing is not strictly chronological, but songs from the same album tend to be grouped together, making for reasonable continuity. However, putting your best foot forward, 1998’s ‘Precious Ones’ is heavily represented with the opening four tracks, and a remarkable eleven in all, taken from that album, from a period in which he was at the peak of his creativity and most of Ten backed him on the album. Indeed the first choice ‘Wrecking Machine’ with its thick wall of instrumentation is probably more typical of his band than solo work.
Those selections continue in fine style with ‘Perfect 10’ having a good groove to it and ‘In Your Eyes’ the feel of Whitesnake’s ‘Is This Love’, though ‘The Night Love Died’ is an example of the overwrought, overblown ballads that divide opinion in the melodic rock community.
His debut album is not represented here, presumably for licensing reasons, so the oldest material is a good chunk of songs from 1992’s self-titled effort, which was the first ever release on Now and Then Records.
In those pre-Ten days his distinctive musical identity was still a work in progress and the material at times is derivative and very much of its time. Nevertheless there are some promising moments including the excellent ‘Blonde Angel’ and a fine vocal display on ‘I Won’t Break Your Heart’. ‘Look at the Rain’ deploys strings while ‘It Must Be Love’ a good ballad that avoided his later excesses in the form.
The remasteirng sounds good to these ears but unfortunately nothing can save the quintet of poorly produced selections from 2007’s ‘Veritas’, where his songwriting was rather treading water too with the exception of ‘Synchronicity’, which stretches over eight minutes.
As ‘Precious Ones’ numbers continue to pepper the running order, there are perhaps too many of those trademark ballads, lush, symphonic and dripping in excess sentimentality for my cynical tastes. But the slow blues of ‘heart of a Woman’ adds a fresh twist and ‘Divided We Fall’ has more of a Ten feel. ‘This Time’ is an odd one as in Billy Joel ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ fashion, he namechecks famous people in laundry list fashion, seemingly unconnected to the chorus.
Interestingly there are three songs from his ambitious pair of ‘Once and Future King’ concept albums, which I don’t really regard as solo albums, as they were sung in character by an all-star cast of guest vocalists. Despite the fact he sings lead on all three, they could sit uneasily here, as they follow the Ten formula of epic lyrics about historical legend and a thick sound, rather than the more personal emphasis of his solo work. However the early Magnum-ish ‘Dragon Island Cathedral’ for one is a reminder of how he was on top of his game in those days cultivating an epic songwriting style.
But the biggest treat for fans is a trio of songs that previously only appeared in the Far East on an ‘In Your Eyes’ EP during the ‘Precious Ones’ period where everything he touched turned to gold (including writing some glorious solo albums for Bob Catley). ‘ The Miracle is You’ has layered textures with a hunt of Def Lepaprd’s Hysteria and a great guitar solo from Vinny Burns,’ Fantasy Tonight’ one of those schmaltzy ballads and All Fall Down an acapella number.
Gary Hughes is always an acquired taste, and there may be a preponderance of ballads, but this value for money retrospective provides much to admire in his songwriter’s craft. ****
Review by Andy Nathan
Album review (Waterside)
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Featured Albums w/c 18 October 2021 (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 TAO Prophecy (Tarot Label Media)
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ABOVE SNAKES Nothing To Lose (indie)
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