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David Sylvian

Secrets of The Beehive

Review by Steve Alspach

After the ambient efforts of Gone to Earth, Secrets of the Beehive found David Sylvian in a warm, almost romantic mood. Enlisting the arrangement talents of Ryuichi Sakamoto, this disc serves as an excellent starter to Sylvian and his music. The rich strings, coupled with Sylvian’s baritone, along with a curious lack of drums, envelop the listener.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 5 at

Track by Track Review
The end of summer is captured beautifully and most effectively, all in 1.15. Sylvian’s vocals, the Satie-like piano, and strings that come in halfway through work perfectly.
The Boy With The Gun
Similar to “The Ink in the Well” from his Brilliant Trees album, this is an acoustic-based waltz-time track. David Torn adds some minimal, yet effective guitar lines. Danny Thompson’s acoustic bass is an excellent touch. The lyrics deal with the contemplations of a boy who feels that somebody’s time will be up soon – a rather haunting lament.
Listen to it in the dark – I dare ya. This is short and eerily succinct. The on edge string arrangement, synthesizers, and mysterious voices make this a very haunting track.
It’s interesting that Sylvian chose this song as the only one to print the lyrics in the CD booklet, but he must have known what the outstanding track was on this one. Again in waltz time, this is a number with acoustic guitar, Danny Thompson is here with the double bass, Steve Jansen on brushes, and Mark Isham on flugelhorn. The most curious part of this song, though, is after the first bridge, where Sylvian lets the chord hang for 18 seconds, extending into nothingness – it’s an unexpected moment in an otherwise warm song.
The Devil's Own
Sylvian and a piano start this off, but the middle section has a woodwind arrangement reminiscent of a European period piece art film. There is a section with backward tracked vocals and piano, done sparingly and to great effect.
When Poets Dream of Angels
Phil Palmer sounds a bit like Ralph Towner with his harmonic playing on the introduction of this track. The acoustic guitars are nylon string, giving a flamenco feel to this. This feel is taken further with the percussion (hand claps, wood blocks, and castanets) during an instrumental section. Mark Isham’s trumpet is barely noticeable – his playing is that of overlaid notes to create wafting chords. And just when you think Sylvian will come back to the verse structure, the song ends just like that.
Let The Happiness In
There is some interesting juxtaposition here with the title playing against a dirge-like brass arrangement of trombones and tubas. But the percussion (tabla, of all things, and light brushwork against a cymbal), and Mark Isham’s muted trumpet add a sense of warmth. The arrangement, with the addition of synths and organ, works in a strange, wonderful way.
The happiness leaves, unfortunately – with a sparse arrangement of piano, strings, and vocals, this is a melancholy song with a strong sense of lament: “And though I’d like to laugh / At all the things that led me on / Somehow the stigma still remains.”
Forbidden Colours
Co-written with Sakamoto, this song may not work as well as the others, perhaps due to the greater prominence of the synthesizer. Maybe it’s because the arrangement tries a bit too hard for a sense of romanticism. I can’t say, but the song has more of an ‘80s feel where the other songs seem truly timeless. Strings, piano, and synthesizer are the main players here. Steve Jansen’s drumming here is the most prominent percussion on the album, and even then it’s a very simple pattern.
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