Bill Ryder Jones – If

“If The Coral were your thing, put down this record and go away. This is not a Coral record.”

Bill Ryder-Jones sounds like he’s being teaching at the Royal Academy for the last forty years, but until recently he was actually playing guitar with scally mad yokes The Coral. If The Coral were your thing, put down this record and go away. This is not a Coral record. It probably does BRJ no favours that I’ve already mentioned his erstwhile chums, The Coral, four times. Because, as I said, this isn’t and album by that band, The Coral, and it doesn’t touch base with any of the touchstones that The Coral would have been busy ripping off, back in their day.

No, rather this is a contemplative soundtrack to a book that Bill has read, but I have not, and is a collection of orchestral pieces, at times the kind that Scott Walker used to have tucked away in the background, mumbled words over delicately plucked guitars, strings hushing and warming, and some gloomy portents. With the title track, or The Reader, it’s as if Black Beauty herself was galloping across green fields, the sky turning orange with the onset of uneasy night. By the third track, Leaning, we’re ensconced in the warm drawing room, a tinkling pianner going at it in the background.

The Spanish guitar and Bill’s mumbled, but not dolorous vocals, make an appearance on Le Grand Desorde, almost naked, till a swell of strings add to the clawed strings. Enlace is an oddity, from a minor piano line, augmented with rolling tom toms to a sudden left turn into some kind of cod-Embrace loquacity, possibly just so he can dig out the distortion pedal and go all post-Beatles George on us. No harm in a curveball.

Some of the arrangements are lovely, the kind to make you stop and consider a lily. Throughout it all, there is an air of menace, occasionally a grieving melancholy. On Intersect melody lines bicker like conversation, and resolve neatly. The Flowers is Black Beauty territory again, except this time it’s raining.

Not having read the book, If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino shouldn’t stop you listening to this music. Unlike the soundtrack to a film, these a conceived as full pieces, and unfold as such. The scenes they’re supposed to playing over exist in Bill’s mind as much as on the page, and therefore the listener can apply whichever tableau they choose. It seems to me that the affectation of assigning a script by which to dedicate the music herein is unnecessary, and that it may have been more impressive if these tunes, from swooning, verbose orchestral moments all the way to prosaic guitar and voice driven songs, were just presented as is, without a contrived context. It can seem as if the contrivance is used simply to compound the tunes here, amalgam the various threads of ideas, the various notions and notations, into one governing idea, given the dissemblance of the work or the fact that some pieces might not resolve in a pop-song way and may need to be couched in a different way. At the end of the day, this is simply music, and pretty good music too. There’s a motif for however you happen to be feeling, or whatever book you happen to be reading. As long as it’s not Andy McNab or you’ve just popped a couple of yokes. Go back to The Coral for that, la.

If  is out now on Domino Records.

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