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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Adult Cinema

Teaser Trailer

Review by John Pierpoint

I found this artist and album thanks to a carefully-targeted ad campaign on Facebook which allowed me to download a free low-res MP3 copy of the album. I liked it so much that I had to get the full CD (see, it does work!). I knew nothing about the artist at this stage, but I was immediately impressed by how well-written the web site and mailshots were—a definite cut above what’s often put out by artists who almost seem like they can’t be bothered to connect to their audience. But then I started to worry that maybe the album wouldn’t live up to the expectations I now had of it (especially as several quoted reviewers drew comparisons to the music of Pink Floyd). But almost from the first few bars, I realised that I had nothing to worry about on that front: this music delivers! Adult Cinema is the nom de guerre of English musician Mike Weston, who hails from Southend-on-Sea. Weston does just about everything on the album: sings, plays (multiple instruments), writes, produces. But this isn’t a “jack of all trades, master of none” scenario; Weston is an accomplished musician, with years of experience, considerable technical prowess, and a knack for writing some of the catchiest songs I’ve heard in a long time. He plays in a variety of styles, but the overarching theme is 1970s progressive rock, specifically the afore-mentioned Pink Floyd. This comes through in the choice of instruments, the song structures, the scarcity of modern synths and effects (although there are some dotted around), and the production, which is mostly beautifully crisp and clear, yet with a decidedly open, airy, analogue feel to it.

The emphasis is on song-writing and production, rather than on lengthy songs or shameless displays of instrumental virtuosity (there are no guitar solos to speak of, for example); but this is still, for my money, classic prog. While the tracks are shorter, there is so much packed into them that they feel like concentrated bursts of progness—solid and satisfying, yet leaving the listener wishing for more. This is a rare and difficult balance to achieve, and the fact that he reaches this elusive goal highlight's Weston's exceptional writing and arranging talents. Floyd fans will definitely feel at home, especially if they enjoy that band’s earlier material (circa More and Obscured By Clouds), as the Hammond organ is often in the forefront, rather than the guitar. So devotees of Stevie Winwood, Jimmy Smith—and of course Richard Wright—will savour those glorious tonewheel sounds and Leslie effects. Where it does appear, the guitar evokes the subtler choppy, bluesy and organic-sounding Gilmour rhythm-work rather than the huge, ponderous guitar solos of the later stadium-filling era. To complete the picture, Weston’s vocal tone is often eerily reminiscent of Richard Wright.

But it’s not all Floyd, and not all '70s. There are bursts of familiar '60s stylistic motifs throughout the proceedings, so those who like The Small Faces, The Who or Traffic (for example) will find plenty to enjoy. And, if you prefer more contemporary music, then tricks with chord sequences and vocal melody phrasing bring Porcupine Tree to mind—as does the fact that this whole album is like the sort of bonus package that PT used to put out after an album's release, chock-full of great music that was often the equal of the official release's content. Indeed, this album was compiled from tracks recorded for the band’s forthcoming This Is Your Life debut album (or rather, an augmented re-master of an album originally released in 2007), but not used in the final version. But it isn’t a just a selection of out-takes and remixes, and to be honest if these are the “rejected” tracks, then that album must be something very special indeed!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Feel Your Eyes

An opening glissandi on a harp gives way to a languid “Je t’aime” Hammond organ tune, with laid-back open high-hat drums providing a solid backbone. Once established, the song keeps the same powerfully addictive groove throughout. There's a crunchy, minimal guitar, while a second guitar does reggae chops. Additional guitar wails and slides punctuate the rhythm at intervals. The vocals are (as mentioned above) rather Rick Wright-esque, but deeper in tone. The whole arrangement is open and full of space. The song is quite simple, but spiced up with delightful fills and tricks that take the listener by surprise, such as the very 70s synth siren wails. Warning: this is a very catchy tune—you'll be humming it for weeks!

Flowers (Fallout Version)
Easily the most instantly likeable cut on the album: everything is done to perfection here, and it's made to seem effortless. A picked acoustic guitar starts it off, with atmospheric cymbal rolls and vocal harmonies adding to the lazy, pastoral feel. But the lyrics belie this, seeming to refer to anxiety about flying. It soon builds up on frantic strummed acoustic guitar—like a Who arrangement. But this is just a tease; it's soon back to the original tune, now with a melodic bass adding more interest to the next verse. Then we're into the second build-up, with its refrain "Come on, come on" sounding quite Porcupine Tree-like. This time it achieves escape velocity and spills over into some delicious 60s-sounding heavy guitar, shored up by pounding drums, á la Keith Moon - fantastic! The fast heavy feel is maintained into the next section, with tons of organ added to the guitar riffing, peppered with plec slides. Phew - that was one hell of a ride!
Asleep at the Wheel
This starts off with a classic John Lennon feel, with its gentle lilting piano, synth strings and vocal melody, but with an unsettling final chord to each phrase. There's a strange whistling, blowing synth trailing around the music, emphasising the dreamlike quality of the song. A straight drum beat and the style of the vocal melody bring it more into ELO territory on the chorus, with pizzicato ticklings (guitar or keys?) behind the second verse. Crunchy distorted guitar notes come in—gradually at first, then crescendoing in arpeggios and flourishes (which could be compared to Brain May, but still make me think of Jeff Lynne). Finally it fades out, leaving that keening synth hanging over at the end.
Dreamt the Other Night (Prog Version)

This seems at the start to be a light and easy-going song, with lyrics musing on parenthood. It begins with an upbeat acoustic guitar intro. A vibratoed synth, upright piano notes, and sparse, raw (the word "naked" comes to mind here!) bass all conspire to evoke early Floyd—maybe "Summer '68"—although the subtle background guitar picking also naturally brings "Breathe" to mind. While I'm considering possible influences, some of the synth embellishments remind me of Air. Later verses bring a darker undercurrent to the lyrics, which now sound less whimsical. I'm not sure why this song is subtitled "(Prog Version"), as it's a fairly strightforward pop song, complete with Middle 8.There's a sudden unexpected stall and gentle stop at the end.

We Sailed Across the Ocean

An elderly man is heard singing a sea shanty. There's a fair amount of hiss behind this vocal, which drifts amidst multiple echoes, and indeed the sleeve notes confirm that this is a field recording from a family wedding in 1976. Cymbal rolls and rumbling piano introduce the song itself, which starts with a simple bass arpeggio (that "naked" bass sound again—which could so easily be Roger Waters, in tone), which is joined by a cheesy, soul organ that morphs via careful Leslie-control into a more Wright-like sound.
The chorus is hugely reminiscent of really early Floyd, at their most whimsical and playful. Weston's vocals here somehow manage to sound like a blend of both Dave Gilmour and Syd Barrett—how does he manage that?

There's a beautiful descending chord section (I can almost imagine a choir singing this). An instrumental chorus leads to a descent into a pot-boiling bass riff, with a multi-tracked "crowd" chattering behind (perhaps a nod to Floyd's "Welcome To The Machine"). The excitement ramps up with the tom-heavy drums, the vocals repeating the mantra-like phrase "Everybody's coming down, to taste the fruits that we have found" like a harvest-time hymn. It gets heavier, with busy snare-work on the drums—while sudden bursts of squealing guitar punctuate the mood.

After another chorus, it briefly reprises the starting section. The penultimate heart-warming line "Now the cat has got the cream. . . cream. . . cream" could easily be a Syd Barrett lyric - lovely. . .

Got to Prove Myself Today
A distorted Leslie cab organ fades in, phasing between speakers. Dark guitar arpeggios and low vocals set a sombre mood which then takes off into a down and dirty bluesy distorted guitar riff. There's a powerful singalong chorus that Oasis would have killed for. After the second chorus, it picks up the pace, going into a short "Pearl & Dean" vocal riff (not nearly long enough!) and organ glisses. But before this becomes settled, it drops down into melancholy guitar and piano, with distant warning drum rolls: a carpet for a PT-like harmonised vocal melody. It fades out on this, rather than doing the expected reprise of the original theme. This is a song that would benefit from an extended version in the future.
My Tangled Mind

A light country/folk feel starts this one off, with picked acoustic guitar pattern. There's some noticeable distortion on the vocals early on. Shuffling brushed snare and root/fifth bass add to the country feel. The lyrics and a whistled verse give a carefree, bucolic atmosphere. This is nice and inoffensive but—for me—possibly the least interesting track in this collection.

Rowboat (Original Version)
The sound of rowing, creaking rowlocks fades in. A distant voice cries for help. Acoustic guitar arpeggios begin the song—with the sort of unsettling discord that Robert Fripp or Steven Wilson would be proud of. A second acoustic guitar comes in, accenting and ornamenting the riff. Organ rhythmic bursts echo with the beat into the distance. Synths burble and wail behind. The whole atmosphere is disturbing. This builds up into full band with double-tracked guitars. The organ gets more manic behind—with chopped vibrato. Almost as soon as this is established and some vocal lines are sung, it slows down and fades down rapidly to the opening acoustic guitar riff and the sound of those oars splashing. Is that it? I feel a bit deflated. Oh well, stick around: there'll be another one along in a few minutes. . .
Witches

There's a massively different vibe to this song, which opens with bar-room upright piano, with booming bass and punchy drums. It has a feel-good, childlike, singalong tune. I can imagine this one being popular at live performances. It was certainly popular with my little four-year-old, who suddenly jumped up and began a spontaneous free-form dance to this tune, with a big grin on his face. Yes, this is one of those very few pieces of music that passes what I call the "Tristan Test!" The good-time feel is boosted when a trad-jazz band joins in on second verse, with their playing increasing in exuberance as it goes on. The trumpet takes lead on a brief instrumental verse. This is so catchy! It's another one you'll be singing for ages after just one listen, you poor doomed souls!

La La La La La

Another piano riff opening, with some unidentifiable clicking/rattling in the background (maybe an undamped snare?) starts this. A zither rings out just once. Wordless vocals (hence the title) form the melody. There's a sort of desperate forced happiness to the feel of the piece. When a very loud bird chirping comes in, it reinforces this impression. I'm sure there's a story to this tune, waiting to be told. That's about it—nothing much else happens here but, as with the previous track, it's likeable and a real earworm!

Bonus Track
Rowboat (Southend Version)

The album concludes with this masterpiece. In true prog-rock fashion, it grows in stature with repeated listening; yet here it is strangely presented as a bonus track. This starts off exactly as the previous version of the song, but this take is lengthier and more intricate (although still way too short for me, after generating such great expectations). It takes longer to build up before the vocals begin. A gentler section with new lyrics comes in after the first chorus this time round. Those lyrics give more clues as to what the song is about: "Men in white coats. . ." and "You've forgotten again what happened that night" imply the aftermath of some disturbing incident. Accents on the rhythm begin to appear, as it all gradually builds up. It fades out to a synth, before some final clattering noises that may be drums—or could genuinely be the sound of the Old Bill breaking down the studio door. (I recommend that you read Weston's account of what happened during the recording of this piece, if you want to understand this last comment!)

This has everything that the previous version had and so much more, so it's odd that both are included, and that this, more satisfying, account is the bonus track—not the other way around. If anything, the original version is more like a "single" cut. And having said all that, I still felt somewhat short-changed even with this longer account, as I'd have liked its killer groove to go on for a lot longer! Maybe that's the whole idea: after all, this album is called "Teaser Trailer."

 
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