"Intermission" by The Upsiders
So here we are, as we always knew we would be, at the final instalment of the "Reconnect" project by The Upsiders, the single "Intermission" which they release tomorrow.
What a magnificent idea it was & how the band must have looked forwards to not only sharing the records with us but also playing the set live. One can only anticipate that & I hope it will not be too long before we can experience all nine songs (presumably in sequence to emphasise the message of the whole as well as the excellence of the individual parts). Thank goodness they had managed to get the recording with Matt Cotterill done when they did as well or we might not have been able to hear the songs this year.
As I have said previously, it is ironic how a song cycle aimed at persuading ourselves to embrace true human contact rather than mediating it via electronic media (and hence actually fostering alienation) should be released during a long period wherein electronic communication has not only been the only way to share music but it's been a lifeline (however inadequate in relation to actual meeting) for so many. Not that I think this detracts in any way from their original vision.
So where does "Intermission" deposit Kenny at the conclusion of his extravagant journey? Well like me, you are probably relieved to know that having experienced the lows of the mid points of the sequence, he has finished on a higher emotional plane & best of all has managed to achieve the goal of reconnection: and it's genuine reconnection to boot. He not only has a romantic connection (I am trying to minimise spoilers here) but he also connects in a spectacular way with the Upsiders themselves: breaking the wall of the narrative if you like.
Musically, as with the entire project, we get something rather different & certainly it may confound even regular Upsiders listeners as it is essentially a slow power ballad in format. Though their usual exuberance is never too far from the surface, this is arguably the most contemplative of the nine songs (probably absolutely the right tone to set given the odyssey through the previous eight songs) and let's not forget that the Upsiders started out with serious & humane points to make. That there has been considerable entertainment & uplift along the way just goes to illustrate their skill at bringing together what for other artists might be incompatible aims.
There are tears at journey's end, but not necessarily in a bad way. The song does wring the emotions powerfully & however big a fan of the band you were before "Reconnect", you probably are even more so now: they have certainly showed significant new aspects of their talents through the cycle.
So where do they go from here? Well artistically, "Reconnect" has opened so many possibilities musically, I can't begin to imagine what their next release might sound like. And that's a good thing I'm sure. In the shorter term, I look forward to their presenting these songs together into an album so you can follow them effectively & grasp the entirety of what they have crafted for us. Let's hope people take the message onboard & reconnect themselves too. Above all, as I said, I look forward to a "Reconnect" live tour.
"Heading Home" by The Upsiders
I feel a little sad now we suddenly find ourselves at the penultimate instalment of The Upsiders' "Reconnect" project: today's new single "Heading Home". I've been following the emotional adventures of Kenny since "Worth A Million" came out back in July & it has been impossible not to become emotionally attached to his journey & rooting for him. It will be a strange moment when the saga concludes.
There is also a strange sense of synchronicity working in the local music scene: to be telling you about a song with this title only a month after writing about Rob Halligan's latest album with such a similar title reminds me of last year when we had a number of artists simultaneously writing about oceans & the sea. It must mean something…
In fact, although both Rob & The Upsiders would have conceived of their songs & titles before COVID19, the concept of journeying & returning home is not unknown in popular music, especially for writers trying to make more profound points, yet they gain extra resonance when the entire global population, artists & audiences alike are being taken on an involuntary journey together.
Kenny's journey was clearly not conceived as a parallel to our current one, yet the idea of exploring emotional highs & lows on a quest for meaningful reconnection to other humans is surely what we are all yearning for at the moment? Paradoxically of course, while the band are trying to warn us about over-reliance on electronic devices for communication & aiming to wean us off them in favour of deeper interactions, it has been electronic media which has been keeping us in touch for many months now. In fact my entire engagement with "Reconnect" has been over the ether (I've not heard any of it live yet) and so has been my sharing of it with you. Ironic eh?
So we find Kenny on the final laps now, "Heading Home". Once again the band have stretched their musical sinews & offered us an eighth successive variation in terms of style with the help of producer Matthew Cotterill. A characteristically perky number (when are they never upbeat at some point in any track?) which in form is somewhere near a Billy Joel style piano led pop ballad, it bounces along with the help of a jaunty bassline (not an instrument which has been as prominent on recent episodes) and drumming and despite the very compelling competition of the previous seven tracks, is probably the most pop orientated of the collection to date & may therefore gain more mainstream airplay: at least I hope it does.
This is not to say that the lyrics are entirely optimistic. As with the songs charting Kenny's lower points, all of which managed to include at least sections of more upbeat music as the band counterpointed moods, again they play with offsetting the tone of the sound with words which still manifest elements of uncertainty, doubt & lack of clarity. It seems that the story has yet more to reveal in its final chapter….
"Bobbie Boat" by The Upsiders
Today, we reach episode seven (of nine) in the "Reconnect" project of The Upsiders: "Bobbie Boat". The last part, "Something Real" marked a distinct rise (in several senses) in the emotional fortunes of protagonist Kenny (though maybe I should refer to him as a hero?) and I trust you are rooting for him in his quest to foster true social connection between people in his life as I am?
As you'll have gathered from all my previous reviews in this series, The Upsiders tend to do a couple of things within it: they make each individual song sound different to each other (no mean feat) and they cram a great deal of meaning into each one, to make the philosophical points they are trying to get across in the collection, while retaining the simpler pop sensibilities so you can actually enjoy each one on its own merits too.
Consequently this is a tender ballad (produced by Matt Cotterill with appropriate sensitivity) which sits somewhere between the American West (the beat and picking are reminiscent of all those old cowboy film songs) and Paris (check out the chanson style accordion) & tells a humane tale of love, loss & offering a path to redemption through the pain. Clearly, The Upsiders appear to be saying to us, reconnection to each other is the goal & treating one another as human beings rather than simply contacts on your mobile phone & social networks is greatly desirable for our emotional & mental good health: but there is no guarantee that every enhanced interaction will be what you want of it, nor necessarily fulfil your dreams. Yet even so, it can lead you & others along a truthful road to something real & meaningful further ahead.
The "Reconnect" road certainly has a lot of twists & turns in it, but it is proving a stimulating journey & the sense of waiting for each new instalment will be a loss once it is concluded. It has also I am sure provided the band with a lot of useful challenges which can only benefit their career: not just the ability to tell stories in a more complex and layered way, but to break through the musical expectations of themselves & their fans ("Bobbie Boat" is not really like anything you'll have heard from them before) and present a wider palette of choices for future writing and arranging.
"Something Real" by The Upsiders
The last chapter of The Upsiders' "Reconnect" song cycle, "Ooh Na" (reviewed in the magazine last month), found protagonist Kenny, while at least at no lower ebb than the nadir of "21st Century Man" had left him at, reflecting on moments in his past life to a Caribbean styled soundtrack.
Now with the release of a new instalment (number six of nine) "Something Real", (written by Callum Maciver), the story moves onwards and (literally) upwards. In fact in terms of narrative there is far more plot development of the overall story than in any previous segment: both regarding Kenny's story and even more importantly perhaps in advancing the band's manifesto around reconnection with the real world and the complex and worthy individuals within it, at the expense of lessening use of alienating & distancing technology. Generally I really just want my reviews to offer insights into great music with the aim of persuading people to check it out: I certainly do not want to provide spoilers which diminish the impact when you do get to listen to something: that applies especially to reviews written before release (as this one is: the record is available from Friday though currently available to presave) and even more when a carefully crafted story is at stake. All I will say then is that a character makes an unexpected reappearance, an element of social reconnection is made (through a degree of trauma) and a breach with technology occurs.
Curiously (some of the more reflective & sad previously issued songs had really upbeat tunes), this one, despite representing an upward swing in Kenny's journey, begins in a restrained piano ballad format but as his progression moves along in its arc, so does the music shift into a more joyous, soul orientated bounce & groove (again musically distinguishing it from its predecessors). I suspect that The Upsiders are simply genetically irrepressible: give them a grave & sombre lyrical theme & they'll play along with it for a few bars before kicking off the restraints and embracing the uplifting instead. This one really soars (the metaphor works well with the narrative in this respect) and the instruments pile into the mix: guitars, brass & Nathan's wonderful Cajun accordion….
They have got the tone spot on for this track & even if you hear it as a standalone (I hope you do play the sequence through when complete as it clearly means much to them & they have worked so hard at it), it will raise your spirits sky high: the band can't wait to play it live & it will certainly get the feet moving & the arms waving when they do. As for Kenny, let's hope this is the first of a series of increasingly joyous episodes in the final third of the cycle.
Incidentally, now might be a good moment to pay full credit to all those involved in the "Reconnect" project:
Callum Maciver (piano and vocals)
Nathan de Broize-King (accordion)
Joe Taylor (bass and backing vocals)
Ryan Middleton (percussion)
David Heywood (guitar)
Jaque Durrant (trumpet)
Bill Cameron (saxophone)
Lydia Dudfield and Mollie Elizabeth (backing vocals)
Production was at Flipside Studios, Coventry courtesy of Matt Cotterill (producer and sound engineer) and John Braddock (mastering engineer)
"Ooh Na", by The Upsiders
Now we are in the heartland of The Upsiders' "Reconnect" project, not only are the cumulative emotions of the arc of protagonist Kenny's journey (back) to meaningful social engagement starting to have ever greater pulls on our own, but the band are also ratcheting up the tension. The first four instalments came out at fortnightly intervals, but having taken Kenny to his lowest point (so far) in "21st Century Man", they have left us on tenterhooks for three weeks to learn where he goes next in part five: "Ooh Na", which they are sharing on Friday.
Thankfully, at least it doesn't get worse for him. A sort of reflective stage, albeit at a low point in his trajectory, the song focuses on his examination of incidents from his past: thankfully perhaps he has retained the self awareness to do this & to try to make sense of where he is, rather than to surrender to despair: and no doubt that is a very key message from the Upsiders for whom this ambitious song cycle is so important & one they clearly wish to share with their public in a manner which does has genuine beneficial effect.
Musically as well as conceptually the series is stretching the band (I'm sure they see this as much a positive as I do) & while a dozen songs of wildly differing styles could drive the project to the brink of incoherence, they are obviously enjoying the chance to explore different genres in their playing & each switch does provide new emphasis to the evolving storyline.
"Ooh Na" is a beautiful Caribbean tinged song with the often intense lyrics & singing being set against an arrangement which blends a variety of styles from the region: calypso, mento, reggae etc. Such a juxtaposition often adds greater effect (as it does here) but must surely be a strategy adopted with caution and taste in order to work & not sabotage the intended message with inappropriate music. The Upsiders here adopt a very light, you might say delicate instrumental touch and as I say, the impassioned singing therefore sits very prominently on top.
As Kenny looks back, one wonders: will the memories he accesses just drive the knife in deeper or empower him to move forward? Only time will tell..... In the meantime, why not check out the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMm9lrJtfJc&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR1wbVFrOxh2DX6r0ED6tOH5GHlwL0lK5K1r02CBs_z75jFhCCHnd3SjFrs
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