The last time I was left speechless was last June when my son, my daughter and her partner presented me with a lap steel guitar they had made from a floorboard joist for my birthday. But just over a week ago I saw the opening gig of The Little Unsaid's tour in Saltaire on 5th May. So I waited with huge anticipation for "Atomise" to land on my doormat to write this review. I am really struggling to find superlatives.
"Human" is one of those songs that you appreciate the more you hear it. Some hit you straight between the eyes, but this one permeated, persuaded and cajoled until it embedded itself as a firm favourite. Musically, "Screws" seems to momentarily lighten the mood, but lyrically there is a darkness to this story of regret and unfulfilled love: "screws rattling loose in my heart" and "no candy trail for me to find my way back". The gentle Spanish guitar melody that underlies the track is supported by effects and piano moods that have become this band's trademark.
The synthesised vocal introduction to "Story" has a Maori feel to it, and carries throughout the song as its backing track. The clever combination of Alison D'Souza's viola, keys and effects creep up on you and the vocal intensity increases proportionately. It is simply gorgeous. "Spiderman" was for me one of the highlights of the live show. The percussion stood out in the live delivery, and that remains consistent with the studio recording. "Spiderman" suggests a vulnerability bordering on agitation: "Oh Mary will you stick around till I fall asleep" being its beautifully delivered chorus.
"Music" begins with a Tony Banks style keyboard sequence, that pans throughout the track. Its percussive drive and multiple layers build into one of the album's rockier moments, with its chorus "I've got my music I don't need my head screwed on" almost belting out in comparison to Elliott's usual vocal restraint. Because his voice is excellent, sometimes understated, yet capable of carrying the depth of these emotionally charged songs. Like the rest of the album, it leaves you wanting to hear more.
In contrast, the title track "Atomise" slows the pace before carefully building to an anthemic crescendo. This absolute highlight is followed by another. "Road" begins with some Gabrielesque percussion from Tim Heymerdinger, and builds quickly into a rhythmic, flowing rock song. It's an earworm of the most welcome kind, a masterful piece of work.
The warmth of Elliott's West Yorkshire speaking voice shines through these songs and never moreso than in vocal in "Ignited", a ballad with multiple dimensions and lyrics that ache "be a moving target as the first nail gets pounded in, I was ignited but the Goddam game kept changing"
So those are my inadequate words. "Atomise" is musically inventive and ethereal, its lyrics pull at the heart. They raise you up and knock you down again. They tear at your every sinew. This album is in equal measure a beautiful, bleak, progressive, symphonic, lyrically poetic, technically clever, and at times heartbreaking masterpiece.
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