Tim Bowness: Flowers for Ghosts
THEME FOR GREAT TIMMY’S
Every artist has their themes and these sometimes stay with them throughout their careers. Flowers and Ghosts are hence regular guests in the Tim Bowness catalogue: Flowermouth, Say it with Flowers, Animal Ghost, Schoolyard Ghosts, Lost in the Ghost Light for example.
Tim often speaks about himself and long term musical partner Steven Wilson arriving at the same musical place and offering different perspectives which might be the case here only 10 years apart. While SW noticed the ‘incident,’ Tim is the one to leave flowers at the scene. Here’s a quick run through of what I found amid the aftermath…
I GO DEEPER
When I first heard this by way of the very zeitgeist ‘lyric video’ I wasn’t sure what to make of it. The positive is that after all these years making music Tim can find new musical avenues to accommodate his voice and yes, it gets better on repeated listens.
The music of the verse and chorus are radically different from each other, they are odd bedfellows but it kind of works. I’ve not heard of drummer Tom Atherton before but wow, he does good on this as does Tim on the lyrical interplay.
‘the sense of an ending, an ending to sense’
‘a journey too far, but not far enough’
‘my mouth is moving but the voice isn’t mine’
THE TRAIN THAT PULLED AWAY
Suitably enough this engages with a chugging string melody line by Alistair ‘The Curator’ Murphy so it literally fills the listener with ‘motion’ or going on a journey. In terms of key and texture, it’s warmer. The song breaks mid way through with the same synth as I Go Deeper hence offering a nice sense of continuity.
His usage of the words ‘terminal delay’ and ‘you’re never leaving’ also hint at British irony if you know anything of train travel in the UK. It begins and ends with the line ‘if it didn’t kill you then, you knew it’d kill you later’ I’ve no idea if he’s referring to British Rail pork pies but it would suit the wit between the lines.
For those old enough to remember planet 80s, Rainmark is how The Bluebells should’ve sounded! Beyond that though, it’s just pleasant ville with joyous ad-libs of ba da da, ba da da da da. And check this… ‘in the light of the distant stars, I wipe the rainmarks from the car’ and ‘the only thing I know is true, I want to drive away with you.’ Now there’s a statement, could Tim Bowness be happy!?
NOT MARRIED ANYMORE
Considering the joy of the last track, this is straight back to TB’s main craft of heartfelt balladry. It’s the sort of Blue Nile heard on their HATS extra track Christmas (for those that know it) and additionally like Paul Buchanan’s Mid-Air album of a few years back; introspective, considered, and deftly constructed with the filigree of gentle electronic glitches in the background.
‘There’s nothing you don’t miss, not the toys, chaos or the shopping lists’
‘a different kind of dance, you’re lost then you were found but you wouldn’t give the changes chance’
IT’S THE WORLD
The odd one out, again harking back to Wild Opera and Dry Cleaning Ray era No-Man, it has more in common with something guest and co-producer Steven Wilson would come up with. ‘it’s the world that isn’t fair, it’s the praise that wasn’t there’ which means the listener is in the unique position of hearing what Porcupine Tree would sound like had Tim been the singer which would technically make it No-Man. Swings and roundabouts. He also cleverly namechecks the album title in the lyrics.
I mention this one on my last Bowness blog.
FLOWERS AT THE SCENE
I don’t know why but for some reason TB’s title tracks are always the shortest of their respective albums and this one is no exception. It’s a warm and gentle sirocco of a song, a nice guitar solo that recalls Steely Dan and some wonderful drumming.
There’s that word again, only this time it’s suffixed with another ‘like.’ Charles Grimsdale’s strong drum groove begins and runs through this, musically anything but Ghostlike! A pensive narrative of someone; an ex-boyfriend or husband? Watching his former partner swimming. Steam is rising as she rises from the water – ghostlike.
A Tony Banks style keyboard lifts the chorus, especially the David Hentschel productions of mid-seventies Genesis, and Ian Dixon’s jazzy trumpet guides the open narrative to its open conclusion; the manly menace walking away, but from what? A dead body or just letting things be? Possibly a case for Inspector Barnaby of Midsomer Murders fame. Definitely one of the highlights and ripe for repeated plays. Be afraid indeed.
WHAT LIES HERE
The end is a little like Eno, Bowness makes the sombre sublime, What Lies Here is sad, blue and aptly set at sea, the flowers are wilting and there’s a nice background vocal on the chorus by 10cc and video whizz Kevin Godley – who I must confess has a much richer voice than I remember.
TB sings staccato, like an even more sedate Michael Franks, on the fairytale verse. The chorus is anchored by: ‘you, out of reach and waving’(Godley repeats the ‘waving’), ‘you’ll never make your way back home’ is also something of a Tim specialty – a kinship with the disappeared, the lost or those slipping through the cracks of society. It could also be another subtle nod to Wild Opera’s Sinister Jazz – You’re never coming home.
Flowers at the Scene is meticulously crafted yet like Peter Kingsbery’s last record with Cock Robin (Chinese Driver), it’s not bad, it’s just ok with some flowers swaying brighter than others. Certainly I’d rather hear the rest of predecessor Lost in the Ghost Light but on a positive (also like PK) Tim is not an artist to stand still and as I said at the beginning, it’s amazing he finds new musical avenues to present himself with.
Give the flowers ample chance to bloom but by no means ignore the rest and that’s a lot of flowers and ghosts to catch up on (if you’re new to the land of the velvet crooner). If you’re familiar with all things TimBow then you have a new batch of songs to nurture.
PLAYLIST AND CREDITS
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For a playlist see the main Tim Bowness blog Catching Up With the Velvet Ghost.
Flowers at the Scene is released on March 1 which also happens to be St David’s Day (if you are Welsh or have some kind of affinity or connection to Wales). *I’m a little late with this one.
My thanks to Freddy at Inside Out/Sony Music UK and again to Tim for generous correspondence and assistance.
Photos courtesy of Inside Out Music.