Perry Blake: Songs of Faith and Devotion

Posted by in Culture, Music, Record Cover Design

DREAMING OF PRAISE

Yes that title is intentionally ironic as much as the actual title Songs of Praise is. In my last Perry blog I suggested I’d rather see some art on his album sleeves and lo and behold he has done exactly that. It stands out like a sore thumb as much as Nomad does in my own catalogue so let’s start there.

If albums could borrow other albums covers this one would probably be New Gold Dream. Why? It’s all to do with colour, the pastel shades of clarets, magenta and purple better suit Songs of Praise. It’s a striking cover, unlike any other in the Perry discography, just with slightly off kilter colouration. Having said that the sticker and inner details both utilise a rust red but you could call it a half tint maroon.

Now onto the musical content. Songs of Praise is Perry in alternative mode and it reminds me of a multitude of things. It could easily have passed as a sophomore release by Electro Sensitive Behaviour. Likewise there are shades of Bowie, The Associates, Pet Shop Boys, The Killers and even New Zealand icon Dave Dobbyn! Yes, I kid you not but I’ll get onto all that later.

It’s produced in the main by Perry himself and started life as an EP quickly growing to an album’s worth of material. Well I can identify with that, my last two books started as articles and grew into books (still to be edited). Anyways getting back onto Songs of Praise. Here’s a track by track of Perry’s latest…

APPRAISING THE PRAISE

DIAMONDS IN THE SUN
Straight out of the hatch and Bowie springs to mind vocally though I can’t think of a specific track. I can see a musical kinship with One Dove’s My Friend in the spangly crystalline synth. Lyrically it’s hinting at someone seeking out a better life amid much stress and tension within the everyday. ‘Always dreamed of something better, always dreamed of some divine, like the days when we were young, where are those diamonds in the sun.’

MIRACLE
Beginning with a choir styled vocal intro – it would have been too crude to intro the album with it, Miracle abruptly changes key and with it mood. It’s Perry mashing up a Bowie/Billy Mackenzie flavour in a carriage running on a stately trot through similar ground to Missing Person (from the ESB album).

The title pretty much sums it up lyrically speaking; a song of suffering and looking for the light. While Simple Minds coupled the ethereal with Derek Forbes warm bass tones and grooves, Perry is more of a traditionalist, so no one’s promising a miracle, we are merely in need of one.  ‘Drowning man could use some help, a heart of gold for a heart of Delph, just looking for some hope’

BOXES
The obscure has always been present in Perry’s work (Weeping Tree for a start) but here it’s more pronounced. Boxes (nothing to do with ICEHOUSE) is where the more dusky terrain kicks in and it deploys an odd vocal effect, purposely obscured while the music has a slow in flight cruising at altitude beauty about it both electronic and delicate. Perry has found his own niche, not so much new romantic but neo-romantic, a renaissance man with a Mac. 

It’s Perry but as much a progression in sound for him as Achtung Baby is to U2 or Welcome to Wherever You Are by INXS. More so the vocal dynamics of Nirvana’s bizarre Top of the Pops performance of Smells Like Teen Spirit with the colour or mood of David Sylvian’s Woman at the Well. Boxes is one of my faves from this record.

EVENSONG
The irony with this is that it’s really light and not in the slightest evensong-esque  however, it’s his most Massive Attack moment yet with percussive beats and again there’s a vocal effect for the title and some mild electronic glitches.

It’s also one of the few tracks that come closest to the cover art. Perry harmonises with himself in lower and falsetto which is a nice touch and there’s a lovely part in the middle where the music becomes warmer and Blake sings ‘When apples were golden and dreams were alive.’

SOME KIND OF MAGICAL
Again this could have been part of a sophomore ESB, very club beat orientated, even has a rap almost in the same voice of Rush’s Roll the Bones; ‘if you make it to 100, if you make it to 110..’, it could almost be a dub with its repeated refrain of the title and not a million miles away from the Human League (or Gorillaz take on them), could Martyn Ware or indeed Damon Albarn be potential producers? 

THE LIVES OF STRANGERS
In keeping with many of my faves Perry is moving forward with industrial synth sounds. The lyrics here allude to someone that sought paradise, found it and then found that after all it just wasn’t their cup of tea. ‘I broke the lock, I saw a light, I swam out to seaI got a taste of paradise, guess it just wasn’t for me’ and I like the way he stretches the ‘me’ into a circular dance around the strings which in turn work in conjunction with the hissing rhythmic pulse.

BROKEN LITTLE ORPHAN
Somewhere between A-ha, Pet Shop Boys and The Killers more synth laden moments especially the pretty little synth motif on the chorus a little like Harold Budd’s She Dances by the Light of the Silvery Moon for those that know it. Another highlight.

SO MANY THINGS
A more traditional Perry (like Ava for example) which is no surprise when you consider it’s a co-write with Marco Sabiu (California, Songs for Someone) but with some of the same voice effects toward the end adding to the continuity.

Despite that, it seems a little out of place here and its inclusion may be like Everything But the Girl’s Mirrorball off Walking Wounded which was there to reassure their fanbase they were still EBTG. Here more of the same downbeat lyrics that turn to hope… ‘if I could start again, then I would my friend’ and ‘There’s a new sky at dawn, maybe a blue sky for us’ as the music again takes flight to a solo male voice choir.

WROTE YOU A LETTER 
Colours fly for this evensong, Canyon Songs The Letter’s meaner edgier cousin, the one who never got any love and is psychologically damaged. ‘You can’t say that it’s love, So I wrote you a letter delivered it by hand, So I wrote you a letter you’d understand.’ Sounds of wildlife imbue the latter stages and the harp is never far from his romantic field of vision which is a deft sweep of craftsmanship to wrap things up.

SUMMER OF 2012
Euro-pop that recalls the synth-pop of A-ha and fellow countrymen Lorraine/Black Room. The song is more about relations… ‘Let me tell you how we met, in the summer of 2012, not such a long time ago’ and ‘oh the pleasures of the flesh, I heard music as she undressed, seems such a long time ago.’

Hypatia doing her finest Florence Welch impression left
and right, Perry auditions for the Polyphonic Spree.

HYPATIA’S LAMENT
Hypatia, who, as you can see from my flippancy looks not unlike Florence Welch in Charles Mitchell’s depiction. The song is named after the murdered Egyptian female philosopher astronomer and mathematician. Musically, it’s his ‘Here – is where everything happens’ by Christine and the Queens and from that you should get the notion this is a very lush presentation.

CHARLIE CHAPLIN
It’s a funny old album this one, with an array of sounds that conjure up many things from my past listening including, believe it or not, NZ icon Dave Dobbyn’s Love Like the Moon from his Hopetown album of 2000.

Never in a million years did I think I would mention Dobbyn (himself an eclectic beast) in a Perry Blake blog! Back to the shimmering music and its lyrical companion ‘I know you like a winter’s night, a place where all the shadows hide.’

MORE SONGS FOR SOMEONE

The word ‘songs’ appears in no less than three Perry albums: Songs for Someone, Canyon Songs and now Songs of Praise. Is this a recurring theme? I mean obviously what are albums and music without songs? But it could almost be a formula much like Peter Gabriel’s ‘magazine’ concept for his own album covers (see Peter Gabriel 1-4).

It’s difficult to know where to pitch this album in terms of other Perry releases. It’s certainly strong, it’s certainly a grower, it’s a progression but is it his best? I really don’t know. There are elements of California (in the intro).

The dusky couplet of Still Lives and Driftwood are updated via Boxes and Wrote You a Letter only this time there’s an edge to the divine and poetic. Additionally the electronic phrasing hints at the last album as ESB but it’s his debut that rings closest.

Songs of Praise does not sound like David Sylvian yet there are obvious comparisons. It being his first album in over a decade makes one think of Sylvian’s Dead Bees on a Cake and secondly, the introduction of Storm Craver as a guest collaborator is as timely and significant as Christian Fennesz was to Sylvian’s Blemish and Manafon.

As an album Praise speaks of hope, the divine, and the struggle to survive in times of hardship, it’s an album that speaks from ground level with a technological heartbeat. With Songs of Praise Perry offers us a journey, it all depends whether you’re aboard for the ride.

PLAYLIST AND CREDITS

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PLAYLIST
My Friend (from Morning Dove White) – One Dove
Diamonds in the Sun (from Songs of Praise) – Perry Blake
Promised You A Miracle (from New Gold Dream) – Simple Minds
Miracle (from Songs of Praise) – Perry Blake
The Woman at the Well (unreleased) – David Sylvian
Boxes (from Songs of Praise) – Perry Blake
Teardrop (from Mezzanine) – Massive Attack ft Elizabeth Fraser
Evensong (from Songs of Praise) – Perry Blake
Dare (from Demon Days) – Gorillaz
Some Kind of Magical (from Songs of Praise) – Perry Blake
Iano (from Insen) – Alva Noto/Ryuichi Sakamoto
The Lives of Strangers (from Songs of Praise) – Perry Blake
She Dances by the Light of the Silvery Moon (from By the Dawn’s Early Light) – Harold Budd
Broken Little Orphan (from Songs of Praise) – Perry Blake
Low Life (from Tomcats Screaming Outside) – Roland Orzabal
Wrote You a Letter (from Songs of Praise) – Perry Blake
Shake the Disease (from Singles 1981-1985) – Depeche Mode
Summer of 2012 (from Songs of Praise) – Perry Blake
Here (from Chaleur Humaine) – Christine and the Queens
Hypatia’s Lament (from Songs of Praise) – Perry Blake
Love Like The Moon (from Hopetown) – Dave Dobbyn
Charlie Chaplin (from Songs of Praise) – Perry Blake

Photo Credits:
Album Cover and Perry woods photo courtesy of Perry Blake.
New Gold Dream from discogs
Hypatia from Wikipedia.