Album review: IAN McNABB – Ascending

IAN McNABB – Ascending


In 1981 the Icicle Works released a cassette of their earliest demos., which went to John Peel and the like and was sold at gigs. As the band developed, songs would get left behind and replaced with newer ones. Subsequently the tunes on ‘Ascending’ were never recorded even in a proper demo studio. Fast forward to 2021 and Ian McNabb has recorded these songs, to mark the 40th anniversary of the original release. The whole album was recorded by Ian McNabb with Ciaron Bell helping out on production and keys, backing vocals, percussion & programming.

It is an intriguing listen as lyrically it may not match Ian McNabb’s later songs, yet you can see how his early song ideas formed. You can also hear the Icicle Works musical influences at that time, with the sounds of early Human League, Soft Cell, Heaven 17, Echo And The Bunnymen, OMD and Teardrop Explodes to be heard throughout these songs.

Loving the synths (or possibly a Bontempi keyboard?!) on ‘Lunar Holiday’, which has one of those almost annoying choruses that stick in your mind instantly. ‘Sympathy’ is a neat bit of synth pop. Indeed synths and effects are a key element to the sound of ‘Ascending’, which will come as no surprise given the musical influences and the era when these songs were originally composed.

‘Are We Dreamers’ wouldn’t look out of place on his latest albums, a humdinger of a tune and melody. There is a little prog to be had on ‘All In The Gleam Of A Scientist’s Eye’, where strings, guitars and synths are wrapped around a short, but effective lyric.

As Ian McNabb succinctly puts it “It was a lovely feeling doing this – it made me realise I’m the same chap at 60 as I was at 20 – just so much more handsome.” One for fans of the Icicle Works and Ian McNabb, this is an intriguing listen as you travel back in time, yet have his vocals of today, which are in good shape. A must for fans and an interesting musical curio for those after something a bit different. ***1/2

Review by Jason Ritchie

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