Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Durutti Column — A Paean to Wilson

This is one of those albums where, going in, you just know it's going to be good. But, A Paean to Wilson feels even better, even sadder, even more poignant than I could've hoped for in even my prettiest of passionate, longing dreams.

Conceived as a musical tribute to the man who basically gave him a stage when no one else in their right mind would have, Vini Reilly's newest album for the late Tony Wilson is nothing short of hypnotic, immersing music. Pure menacing beauty. Because the album is in tribute to his dearly departed friend, A Paean to Wilson has an air to it of retrospect; a reflection of better days gone by and lonely days to come. Indeed, there is a sense of realization to be heard in this album. As if Tony's untimely and sudden death convinced Vini that he was not long for this world himself and he needed to make a purposeful and definitive statement that summed up all of the best qualities of his past work, while simultaneously capturing why he was still relevant after all these years.

But, make no mistakes, as calculated and programmed as this plan of an album may be, it is a crowd-pleaser of the highest order. Even if you don't know the history, this is gorgeous and redemptive music all around. But, if you do know the history, it is gorgeous, redemptive, heartbreaking and ultimately, glorious music of the most rewarding calibre.

Take a song like 'Requiem' for example. Sure, for Durutti fans, a rehash of an old tune. But, even here, it's played with a new intensity —arguably, an anger— that never would've occurred to most listeners otherwise. I can't even imagine what it would sound like on virgin ears; maybe some sort of dark, trip-hop tinged goth wankery. It is the definitive version of the tune. And thankfully, it's the only revisit to be found here.

'Chant' and 'Stuki' heavily recall the Vini Reilly album from 1989. Irresistible guitar riffs woven around vocal samples with seeming non-effort to create programmed beat-heavy little ditties that manage to be completely catchy and have a completely floating, lighter than air feel of the Column's best work. And it should be pointed out that Vini was actively trying to make music that Tony would have liked, so the complete lack of Vini's vocals, the resurrection of old Durutti alumni John Metcalfe, Keir Stewart and Tim Kellet and the inclusion of the Heaven Sent EP as a bonus disc (from 2005, previously a digital-only release and the first release on Tony's last label, F4); all of that was quite intentional. In fact, Vini states in a rare self-penned sleevenote, "My only objective was to create some music that Tony would thoroughly approve of."

The second half of the clearly-inspired, 70+ minute album is where things go from impressive and good to downright fantastic and pastoral. Starting with 'Brother,' obviously the best use of a Marvin Gaye sample in years and the album's definitive and spiritual centerpiece, and continuing right through the heart wrenching 'How Unbelievable,' it's a quite successful experiment in just how far a musician can carry a singular inspiration and still make music that has a clearly defined goal, but yet, outside of that goal and that context, can still sound absolutely engaging.

It is entirely too easy to get swept up in the clear emotion of this music and look past what Vini Reilly has actually done in terms of this being the next Durutti Column album. If his last album (last year's somewhat stagnant Love in the Time of Recession) was a bit regressive and semi-unimpressive in the face of the great loud/quiet combo of Idiot Savants and Sunlight to Blue...Blue to Blackness, then consider A Paean to Wilson to be the complete fulfillment of everything those two albums promised, and worlds more. At times, the album feels like a unified masterpiece, years in the making, but with Tony Wilson's death just over two years removed and numerous Durutti releases in the interim, that analysis is a bit confusing. How could he have had the time that such thoughtful material required?

I have no answers. All I can say is that it feels like a revelatory album for Vini, and not just because of its muse. Musically, he hasn't sounded this inspired and this good so consistently since the late 80's.

And that's actually more than a little impressive, considering the strength of his albums since Keep Breathing.

Fantastic, poignant, heartbreaking and wonderfully beautiful.

It's his best overall work in years.

(I am actually so damn tempted and close to giving this thing five stars, you wouldn't even believe it)


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