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Review of Fripp/Sylvian's "Damage"

Date Submitted: 17-Oct-94
Submitted By: Brian Ritchie (br at inf dot rl dot ac dot uk)

Subject: Damage review

Since I've not seen one yet, here's some notes I made on my first (and so far only!) listen to Damage...

Brian Ritchie

Damage - 1st Impressions
8 Oct 94

Before it's in the player...

Lush packaging, big thick cardboard box, black with silver/rainbow effect writing/graphic. Spoiled by the barcode sticker explaining the contents and slightly-larger-than-standard price. (But nothing like the rip-off of the Sylvian/Mills thing). This contains a 32-page glue-bound booklet just a bit too thick for a CD case, full of odd photos (details of an art installation and blurred live shots) and words to the new songs and (for some reason) Darshan.

The line-up:

David Sylvian - Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Robert Fripp - Guitar, Frippertronics
Trey Gunn - Chapman Stick and Vocals
Michael Brook - Infinite Guitar
Pat Mastelotto - Drums

"Recorded Live December 1993", but no hint as to which venues (the thin CD liner has superimposed city names on the inside - a typographic dead ringer for Peter Hammill's "There Goes The Daylight" liner.)

There's an ordinary CD box, containing a far from ordinary 24-carat gold CD. The box and booklet can only be removed from the outer box by moderately violent shaking!

The CD is wonderfully long

Damage (4:31)

Surprisingly gentle, synth and vocals, joined by stick, then infinite guitar.

God's Monkey (6:42)

More laid-back than the album version - two or three guitars instead of the Fripp array. Obviously Michael Brooks swoops and swells in the background, Fripp squeals to the fore, presumably Sylvian chops in the middle. Nice harmonies Trey - in the studio, I'd assumed Sylvian was double-tracked, perhaps not. Maybe a bit lacking in bite relative to the original, though I do like Brooks' imaginative background. And there's a lovely Fripp solo at the end.

Brightness Falls (6:29)

Again, a shade less up-front than the original, though the distorted guitar is faithfully reproduced. Everything stops in the middle for a subdued passage of guitar, drums and infinite guitar, quite dreamy. This runs into...

Every Colour You Are (5:40)

... which sounds pretty like the original on Rain Tree Crow, well until the middle, where it floats off elsewhere. Also, Sylvian's inflections are quite different.

Firepower (7:02)

Yet again, I find that this lacks the sheer energy of the original, but perhaps the extra finesse and breathing space makes up for it - the stick playing stands out more, I think. The intentional distortion on the vocals is maintained. Hey, there's a string quartet making a noise here - tapes or midi-triggered samples, I suppose. After about 3 minutes, they break away from the original for a quite frippertronic passage over the same stick/drums riff.

Gone To Earth (2:28)

Yet another version, utterly utterly different from the album version (except for the vocal melody, and the middle bit with the funny old codger speaking about the soul going beyond being). A much straighter rendition, followed by some nice dreamy frippery and infinite guitar. Then...

20th Century Dreaming (8:03)

BANG! we go into this, and for the first time, something like the power of the original. A wild fripp solo, and things start to disintegrate (in the nicest possible way). In sneaks a quote from another Sylvian song which I recognise but can't quite place (off Secrets of the Beehive I think). A return of the frenetics, before falling into a free-form frippertronics show, which is quite lovely, but ends rather abruptly.

Wave (6:11)

One of my favourite Sylvian tracks, so I'm a little disappointed (but not surprised) that the notes rather than the spirit of the opening are adhered to: not quite as lush as the original. But fine nonetheless, Brooks' guitar making a nice different background. This song has some stunning chord progressions, by the way. A fine alternative version (I'm just too attached to the sound of the original).

Riverman (5:01)

Again, radically different from the original: I was expecting the stick to mimic that deep thumping bass, but it's a much lighter tone. The drum pattern is different too. I miss the guitar that (in the original) comes in after most vocal lines. But in the middle, things hot up a little, and it begins to be more than an approximation of the original.

Darshan (10:47)

No attempt made to fully recreate the hiphop automata percussion of the original. Here, concentration is on fripp's screams (elephant talk). The original left me quite cold, I just couldn't concentrate on it - just an unstructured jam. This version's holding my attention a bit longer, because it's more varied, and more seems to be happening - better interplay, livelier playing. Only to be expected, I suppose!

Blinding Light Of Heaven (4:15)

Now this sounds live! Nice raw guitar twiddles, good reverb on the drums. The lyrics aren't in the book but I think this is new. Sounds a bit like Jean The Birdman. The music is almost straight guitar-rock.

The First Day (4:44)

What, piano! and atmospherics. Sounds like a companion-piece to the opener, something of a "time for bed now, folks" song. Nice frippery in the background. Sylvian's end-of-line warbles here are simply wonderful. (Here's hoping there's another album of ballads in the pipeline...) I presume this track was live, though it ends without applause (shades of Oil On Canvas here).

In Conclusion

A fine album. It's 72 minutes fairly chug by (some long albums can really drag, not so here). If there's anything that disappoints me, by the end of my first listen, it's the feeling that the players have never really let rip, apart from Fripp. The stick and drums seem to have played almost entirely supportive roles, with no showcasing in their own right. I don't mean that I miss a 10-minute drum solo!

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