No-Man: Love To Love You Baby

Posted by in Culture, Music

LEAVING THE SCHOOLYARD BEHIND

Schoolyard Ghosts could have been No-Man’s last album. Likewise as per my last post on Tim’s – Flowers for Ghosts – Love also features heavily in the No-Man catalogue. Lovesighs, Loveblows & Lovecries, Love and Endings so Love You To Bits kind of follows suit which, when you consider the song has been kicking round for years, isn’t too much of a revelation – but the music is!

It’s the second release this year credited to ‘no-man’ as a production team (after Tim’s Flowers at the Scene) but it couldn’t be more different. Also (for the uninitiated) it’s no surprise that Steven Wilson’s first two albums were Pink Floyd and Donna Summer so here their spirits are united in musical matrimony (as are the recent Mr and Mrs Wilson so perfect timing).

DISCO IN A CULTURAL CONTEXT

Historically you might look on the latter years of a decade as progressive (not just the genre) but also in that quite often these years lend themselves to a spring clean out of the soul and what better way to do that than dance. In the latter seventies CHIC and the Village People gave us Good Times and YMCA to the extent there was a disco sucks revolt in America.

In the late eighties dance again took hold through S-express and the acid house. And in 1999 a slew of dance singles lit up the charts such as Alice Deejay, ATB and Basement Jaxx and in 2008 Kleerup (together with Robyn) demanded our attention with the killer anthem With Every Heartbeat.

These examples also coincide with very trying times, socially – quite often recession. Scorn was heaped on Nile Rodgers via the opening line of Good Times, ‘Happy days are here again’ at a time of great unrest in America. The recession of 2008 in the UK and the current uncertainty cast by Brexit also give us cause to relax (I’m thinking more MIKA than Frankie).

Whatever your musical persuasion or passion dance continues to be a good social cleanser. But this is No-Man so you can expect their take to be very different and it is. Part comical, part dream, part dour (when you consider the album is actually about break up but this is not the break up for real – or at least let’s hope not).

From the seemingly camp title you might assume the guys were gay but No-Man are a band who like to break down barriers – Why is disco always associated with being purely for gay men? More so, Wilson was unashamed to wear an ABBA t-shirt when others would have balked. Unashamed to hire bassist Nick Beggs (yes him of the goo) when others would have balked. No-Man are a band unafraid in a world afraid. So let’s go…

LOVE YOU TO BITS: THE ALBUM

Love You To Bits is pretty much what is says on the tin, a two part song cycle consisting of five bits (the first part) and five pieces (the second). As Tim points out it can be viewed as a one track, two track or 10 track album – so very No-Man.

The first part points back in time to when the men were Painting Paradise and also Love Among the White Trash (there’s another love title) but my initial reaction on hearing the trailer for this totally unexpected album made me laugh and smile which is a good sign. Love those crazy guitar licks spread over a near two minute stretch during the first half of the record.

No-Man takes the glittering synths of Scotland’s CHVRCHES and the more trance like elements of Jean-Michel Jarre and blurs it with tried and true flavours of a fermented Floyd. This is to No-Man what Lost in the Ghostlight is in Tim’s catalogue only it’s replacing prog for disco, well, almost – it’s a clash of both! Progressive Disco! Or Prog-Disco. In essence a No-Man going back to the future! And it’s the power of love that fuels this albums set of lyrics.

PINK FLOYD NEVER DID THIS!

Like Together We’re Stranger there’s a 30 second intro before those jack hammering synths begin and neon lasers the speakers for nearly two minutes before Tim’s familiar soothing voice enters the room with not a mirrorball in sight, other than the one on the cover. Such a pity his vision of having an exploding mirrorball wasn’t realised as it would have made perfect sense.

As usual he’s in lyrical seventh heaven. ‘What are you thinking? What are you dreaming, I’d like to know what’s on your mind’ and ‘Who are you holding? How are you coping? Did you move on or stay behind?’ ‘I love you bits, I love you to pieces, I love you like I don’t love you at all.’

The guiding synthetic drum beats are dam-busted out of the way by Ash Soan’s real kit on 2.45 Backed up on the 3.35 minute mark by a wonderful dreamy background chorus of ‘I love you – love you – love you.’ It could almost be a parody!

For those old enough to remember Spitting Image once did a spoof called Dream Lover where the Queen Mum falls in love with Sandy Gall (a British broadcaster). Alternately it’s Tim’s take on Love to Love You Baby (minus the moaning).

A gentle lull in the madcap adventure is given voice ‘eyes are tired of weeping, heart is tired of beating’ this is musically the most Wilson-esque part. As always, the results are Floydian and filmic and you could also look on the record as some sort of marathon, with its signs, landmarks, eyesores, peaks and troughs. Around the six minute mark the guitar picks up the beat again and we’re off on the next part of the voyage (or run).

LOVE VOODOO – MAN-IP-U-LATED!

And that begins with… a manipulated vocal treatment of the above refrain which makes way for the pensive and pulsing synth which runs through, more or less, the whole of Together We’re Stranger’s second cut All The Blue Changes but to give an indication it’s there when Tim cites the city in a hundred ways. This is a nice passage which I’ll name the ‘calling me’ bit. ‘still falling, for all you left behind, calling me.’

This in turn leads to David Kollar’s guitar crazed assault on 10.25 rubbing up those fatigued weeping eyes again. The trance part comes out of nowhere and recalls Oakenfold/Osborne’s ten minute remix of Olive’s You’re Not Alone! For those that know it, just after the 3.25 mark. Back to No-Man and it gets even stranger by the minute with a brass send off for the first part. This could be another ode to the Floyd (Outside the Wall).

WE GOT EVERYTHING RIGHT

Love You To Pieces is a touch longer than the first part and also has a slow and moody start with Tim’s vocal lamenting ‘all of the heartache, all of the signs, all of the things we should have known.’ We (the listener) are now looking at therelationship in a past tense and more importantly in a negative; ‘I loved you to bits, I loved you to pieces.’ Earlier I mentioned Kleerup’s Every Hearbeat and there’s a feint sprinkling of that on the synths around the 4.00min mark which is fine by me.

Even Jean-Michel Jarre is given an unofficial calling card around the six minute mark (Chronologie 6 anyone?) Where Tim’s emotionally strained larynx comes out of a vocoder-voxed cocoon to croon the same line ‘We got everything right, we got everything wrong!’ 

Though it’s no Roger and Scritti Politti, it is paradoxically speaking BOOM, There She Was! Cue more crazy shenanigans with Adam Holzman’s electric piano solo which begins on 8.25 and gradually cranks up the gearstick around 9mins. If Propaganda’s Secret Wish had been a disco album it would have sounded like this!

IT’S ALL GONE TINGLY!

Enter the tingly synths phase, sorry piece, with a walk by the river (hopefully the explosions in your heart will be the euphoria directed toward the music rather than anything more serious). Meanwhile, Tim sings ‘it felt like the future, there was stardust in your eyes.’ The ‘I love you’ chorus is still there though paradoxically deeper and darker, like something from a Steven King movie score.

If Love You To Bits was a Choose Your Own Adventure book then the next piece finds us weightless in a white mist of heavenly delights (13 mins) mirrored in the ‘floating’ lyrics. Bathed by Tim’s echoey voice we’re ear caressed into a dramatic Frippertronic interlude before finally easing into ‘the seventies bit (or piece).’ Somewhere between Eno’s Always Returning II and Prefab Sprout’s Nancy (Lay Your Hair Down for Me).

Wait, both of those are eighties – ok but the mood is abundantly evocative of the seventies. Think concrete housing estates (like the Barbican), Formica kitchens and olive wallpaper and you should be on the mark. Back to Tim’s wordplay… ’after the horseplay, there were fights in the hallway.’  A search for gold that led to grime, faraway visions and random decisions coupled with some deft cymbal touches from Soan.

BITS, PIECES, SHREDS

Not to give any spoilers, but it all ends with conveyance to the passing of time, suitable in that the listener can easily melt into the cacophony of sounds this album or ‘journey’ creates. The Bowness/Wilson team have come a long way and are so skilled at making records Love You To Bits never feels boring and doesn’t feel like it’s meandering like the original 21 minute version of Heaven Taste does.

The addition of Love You To Shreds is the album condensed into an ambient suite (much like Steve Jansen’s Corridor or Extinct Suite) beginning with the tingly synths phase (think Eurythmics Beethoven Philharmonic version) which dissolves into an ambient pool of pale synths and vocal sighs or is it Lovesighs?

Either way it’s more soothing than a Bowness bubble bath! After such aural delights comes the ambient Eno/Sprout seventies bit which gradually distorts like a memory of a broken relationship fading from vision slowly crackling towards its conclusion.

So where does all of this fit in the No-Manisphere? It sure as hell doesn’t follow on from the post-rock trilogy of noughties No-Man: Returning Jesus, Together We’re Stranger, and Schoolyard Ghosts. If indeed they are post-rock but more to the point Love You To Bits fits somewhere between Loveblows & Lovecries and Flowermouth.

Painting Paradise and its hip jerking alter ego Paradub, and The Associates cover of Blondie’s Heart of Glass are all map markers for your attention. You might not be able to dance to architecture but you can now officially dance to prog! The question is with another Wilson album and tour on the horizon will there ever by another No-Man adventure? If there is I hope they can squeeze it out in under 11 years!

PLAYLIST AND CREDITS

Thanks for reading here. Should anyone be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, please contact me for a FREE Overview PDF. Meanwhile, stay tuned with Kulture Kiosk via The Atlas or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world. Playlist and credits follow…

And now a world first… a quadruple playlist, yes, I kid you not, four!!!! Check them out! The initial idea was to have the Dance You To Bits/Rock You To Pieces playlists featuring no ‘no-man’ songs at all (as I featured both of this albums tracks in my last No-Man blog). However, if we are following the blog, the first playlist is something like this…

PLAYLIST: STANDARD BITS AND PIECES
Painting Paradise (Single Mix) – No-Man
Love You To Bits (Bit 1) – No-Man
Heart of Glass – The Associates
All The Blue Changes – No-Man
You’re Not Alone (Oakenfold/Osborne Remix from 3.25 onwards) – Olive
Outside the Wall – Pink Floyd
Under the Tide (the whole track but attention 1.45-2.15) – Chvrches
With Every Heartbeat – Kleerup/Robyn
Chronologie 6 – Jean-Michel Jarre
Beethoven (Philharmonic Version) – Eurythmics
Turn Back the Clock (Mendelsohn Mix) – Johnny Hates Jazz
November Suite II – Robert Fripp
Nancy (Let Your Hair Down For Me) – Prefab Sprout
Always Returning II – Brian Eno

PLAYLIST: DANCE YOU TO BITS
Love to Love You Baby – Donna Summer
Got to Have Your Love – Mantronix
Jump (For My Love) – Pointer Sisters
Lover Come Back to Me – Dead or Alive
Brand New Lover – Dead or Alive
In Love with Love – Debbie Harry
Love is the Art (7″ remix) – Living in a Box
Rhythm of Love (Move to the Rhythm) – YES
I Don’t Want Your Love (Single Mix) – Duran Duran
Love Conquers All (Extended Mix) – ABC
Computer Love – Kraftwerk
Your Love – CHIC
Send Your Love (Dave Audè Remix) – Sting
Power of Love (Masters at Work Mix) – Deee-Lite
Geometry of Love 2 – Jean-Michel Jarre
Love Me Madly – The Human League
Love and Attraction – Darren Hayes

PLAYLIST: ROCK YOU TO PIECES
Is it Love? – Mr. Mister
Why Can’t This Be Love? – Van Halen
Love Like Blood – Killing Joke
Speed of Love – RUSH
Girls in Love – GUN
Logic and Love – Wang Chung
Love it When You Call – The Feeling
Message of Love – The Pretenders

PLAYLIST: HERE COME THE WARM (AMBIENT) SHREDS
Beethoven (Philharmonic Version) – Eurythmics
Turn Back the Clock (Mendelsohn Mix) – Johnny Hates Jazz
Nancy (Let Your Hair Down For Me) – Prefab Sprout
Always Returning II – Brian Eno

Photo credits: First image from No-Man official Facebook.
Sleeve images from Discogs. Disco Isn’t dead image shot in London Oct 2019.