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The Enid

Something Wicked This Way Comes

Review by John Pierpoint

Life has never been easy for The Enid: a band whose career reads like a succession of cliff-hanger chapters in a novel. Often they seem on the verge of major success, almost always seeing that well-deserved prize snatched from their hands at the last moment. And then – just when it looks like the game is over – another twist of fate throws them a lifeline.


This 1983 album came about at a time when the first – most beloved by prog fans – phase of the group had run its course, and remaining co-founders Robert John Godfrey (keyboards) and Stephen Stewart (guitars) were left to carry on the group as a duo. They weren’t quite alone, as excellent drummer Chris North was onboard for the album and the subsequent tour; but to all intents and purposes the band had become a duo. At this point in popular music history, this wasn’t much of a handicap, as the music scene was by then packed with “odd couple” synth duos. Indeed, it seemed the most practical template for a successful band at the time. In common with these other acts, the band made extensive use of the latest keyboards and synthetic sounds, marking a radical departure from the full symphonic rock band configuration of previous The Enid offerings. The sound was now somewhat harsher and unsettling. Another big change was the use of vocals – something The Enid had hitherto avoided on their albums (but it was a different story on some of their more esoteric single choices). On this album, many of the tracks have vocals from one or other of the duo. In addition, vocoders and vocal treatments are used to good effect.


The album deals with nuclear war – still very much a real threat at the time – and pulls no punches in depicting the horror of the subject. It’s a grim album to experience, compared to the benign, uplifting symphonic rock of previous albums; but it is also quite magnificent in places, with beautiful themes and soaring instrumentals appearing unexpectedly amongst the dark and sombre synth soundscapes. Much use is made of recurring themes, with melodies from one or more tracks being referenced in another. These serve to link the tracks and make the album more coherent.


This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2021  Volume 5. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2021.

Track by Track Review
Raindown

You know right from the off that this is not going to be a stroll in the park. Watery sounds begin the album, followed by an eerie and foreboding wailing of ominous synths.  Then a crescendo of string synths comes in, harsh and brutal. All this is merely an introduction. The song proper begins abruptly with a rhythm of guitars, keyboards and the tribal sound of low-tuned toms. Godfrey’s vocals chant the verses, railing against the machinations of those in power. In the choruses, the sung vocals sweep over in multi-layered waves, sometimes with tape-speed effects. This all conspires to disorientate the listener, while brass synths bray martially. Godfrey uses an almost operatic singing voice, and he gives it some welly on this song!

Jessica
This is a pleasant, mostly uplifting, instrumental that wouldn’t sound out of place on an earlier Enid album. It comes as a blessed relief after the Sturm und Drang of the opener. Stewart’s singing guitar work is particularly enjoyable here. Sustained guitars open the tune, before a gentle piano comes in. The piece kicks briefly into higher gear with some of Stewart’s trademark soaring, multi-tracked guitar. Then it descends a more sombre tone, with a monastic flavour, before re-ascending to the clouds in another, more elongated section of guitar. The chorus theme from the album’s final track sneaks in on piano at the end.
And Then There Were None
Back in the ruined world of the opener, this song relates the aftermath of destruction, as a dazed and confused Noddy (yes, the Enid Blyton character!) stumbles from the wreckage of his home to find bits of his best friend scattered all over the garden. The juxtaposition of the familiar, comfortable fantasy of the Enid Blyton characters and the cold, merciless cruel reality of a nuclear war is highly effective. Stewart takes the lead vocals, joined by Godfrey in the choruses. The vocal “ooh-aahs” in the choruses are reminiscent of those in a 1940s Hollywood musical. The song peters out to flute-like synth and then solo piano.
Evensong
A melange of mystical synths begins this piece. There is the atonal tolling of bells. A synthetic trumpet sound is used to carry the melody of a stately, funereal, Elgar-like tune. The guitar joins, harmonising with the trumpet. String synths come in as the tune swells and becomes grander, yet remaining elegiac, eventually bringing in the “Oh, wonderful world” melody of the album’s final track. The mood becomes darker as the tune slows to introduce the next piece. . .
Bright Star
This runs straight on from "Evensong." A gentle tinkling sound comes in, marking time. Stewart’s guitar plays snatches of tunes (including “Singing in the Rain”) over this. It shifts and changes. Nothing sticks around for long. It’s as though the music is tracing the stream of consciousness of someone remembering happier times.
Song for Europe
This is an instrumental with a martial theme, with snatches of the British national anthem on Stewart’s soaring guitar. I’m sure a folk fan would identify many of other melodies that are quoted here, too. It seems to my ears to be depicting the jingoism and flag-waving of nations gearing up for impending war. It suddenly drops to ominous church organ and the rattling of side-drums. Like “Jessica," this tune seems closer in style to vintage The Enid.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
This is possibly the best track on the album (perhaps depending on your mood when you listen). As befitting the album’s theme, this is dark and foreboding, but powerful and strangely compelling. A sombre piano begins the song, joined by a clean guitar tone. Godfrey handles the vocals, delivering them in his ironic, mock-operatic style, above a rhythm composed mostly of reversed synths and sound effects and Chris North’s precise drums.


The “Oh wonderful world!” chorus (quoted in "Evensong") appears in its full vocal glory. And as the track seems to end, the vocals from "Raindown" make a reappearance. However, it doesn’t end here; the pace picks up again and the music builds up, to bring in a reprise of the chorus from “And Then There Were None” that initially sounds more hopeful with the words “In the sun. . .”, but this too darkens to become a grim countdown from three to none, matching the grim images of the disappearing children on the album’s cover. The mood changes abruptly with the tolling of a bell and the sound of carrion birds, but then a guitar solo with gobs of tremolo bar blasts in for an instrumental verse. As this fades out, the scene shifts to a piano that at first continues the melancholy mood, but then lifts into a warmer, major key to let the album drift away into brighter, sunlit uplands.

 

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