“A triptych both teary and tremendous… hot with thought, caressingly cool with delivery.”
A fragile sunbeam pierces the onerous matte overcast, disillusionment turns his weary head to a bright new chapter and clarity is given a chance to prevail. It is an eternal thematic that is visited time and time again, and it speaks to my dormant core once more in Pete Herbert’s EP ‘The Question.’
‘Head in the Clouds’ is awash with a vibrating plethora of overdubbed vocals, and this serves to give dimension to both a light, meaningful tenor voice and also suggests the uncomfortable realisations we face before we change course. It is a heavy stroll, not a gallop, and almost pastoral with the acoustic guitar swimming through its currents. Being a visual artist, I am mightily affected by the marriage of lyric and music, and I was delighted to get an abject completed image more or less injected into my brain, straight out of Studio Ghibli. When the chorus makes itself known-
“I’ve had my head in the clouds for too long…and it’s time that I made some changes,”
– it was a tattered, clanking, retro fitted airship descending from an angry bruise coloured cloud bank. The slipstream is kind to its frame as it cruises down to an altitude away from turbulence. Away from delusions of grandeur, and all the crushing agony that being in that place entails.
I really appreciate how Mr Herbert can take such a straightforward, idiomatic lyric, sing it legato and stretch it out like the glowing orange stem of a wineglass as the buffeting crash of the music scaffolds it from underneath. Hot with thought, caressingly cool with delivery.
Though at risk of contradicting myself, just before the chorus’ onset I found myself having to concentrate more to ascertain the lyrics as therein appeared a spaghetti junction of vocal lines. A minor issue that I found interruptive, but still illustrative of the song’s cause and an awkward knot to be unravelled in a state of relief and refreshment? Yes. The chorus confirms, as does the fade out.
Convinced, I hitchhike onto track two. That was the opener, I liked it. It’s like a welcome cuddle from a friend/partial interest, but you’re quietly excited by their choice of deodorant.
The colours become darker and the glaciers start to break as Pete stokes up his emotional hypocaust. A flurry of cymbals and a starry wail of guitar open ‘Meant to Be’ and Pete’s vocals steadily gain in size and height. The chorus is interesting too as the vocal delivery compliments the rhythm and the progression this time instead of encapsulating it.
“We were never meant to be apart… but you might (but you might) (Fly?) Su- ggest-a-com-pro-mise”
Of particular mention, the chorus is resolved quite cleverly and tidily with a cute little double entrendre which I was quite impressed with.
“… (it) doesn’t HELP when all you do is turn a blind (* brief pause chorus ends*) EYE…will take every word you say with a pinch of salt.”
I really feel that lyrical twist French kissing the melody without upsetting one splinter on the applecart. This isn’t quadratics, but very slick pop writing indeed.
I’m not sobbing on the kitchen floor yet, (not that I want to) but having an earnest tête-à-tête with a love that operates with ideals too different to my own, plain indifference to my bleeding, shortbread- buying heart, or a past that is obsolete but still plucks on its still tender strings. It’s more torchy than the opening track as I would expect and also do value.
“What will it take for you to pay attention, you just act like I’m not there, act like I’m not THEEEERE”
Thanks to that clever segue, I’m pleased that the character continues along a healthier path of reconciliation and I don’t think is up for taking much more crap from the objectified neglecter of his worth. I like a nice story, and Pete’s pipes really kick in towards the climax.
The recurring themes of the everyday person; banal, mundane, fecklessly romantic, yearning, and mustering all the strength you have to push the disappointment to one side and just continue marching along the avenues of self realisation. Jackie Collins writes about strong women, Nick Hornby writes about men finding their place and honest self in a hostile, fathomlessly cynical age. This EP does similar, in places is simplicity done well and doesn’t bore me.
We arrive at the title track, and the darkness starts to welcomingly expand in a faster paced, distorted miasma that houses a tremendous, more extravagant prog-rock moment without being wanky. Here is where Pete’s top edge slices into the fray, and his ability with head voice and mixing it really works well, lending a War of the Worlds – esque mood of climbing hysteria as apocalypse dawns – “…here it COOOMES… the end of our DAYS!”. It’s delicious hearing.
The vocal overdubs are far from superfluous here as the harmonic hierarchy I often hear from his work is fruitful. A straightforward, sleepy, even languid vocal addresses you directly whilst a more godly, inaccessible fury erupts somewhere in the middle distance. He can sure hit some notes in full voice.
The Question develops into an unrelenting magmatic quake that finally dies down into the shivering of strings reeling from the aftershock, which I pleasantly didn’t see coming.
Before I wrote this review I drew inevitable comparisons which I then ignored because I think this stands apart from In Crowded Skies as a tasty starter of what Pete can and most likely will deliver in the hopefully not too distant future. I refrained from going too much into describing his voice because I might need an extra page just for that, but I’m very fond of what it can do.
Pete’s tenor here can be a laconic and caressing sound, but also like a stern, even bitter blade. If his voice had eyes they’d be sparkling with angry tears as he sings out into the infinity of question. A baritonal boom and rock vocals of the more sinewy, guts-on-the-outside type are replaced with his mastery of the cleaner attack. Though at moments I think the clarity of his diction is obscured by the overdubs.
I appreciate the well- constructed build up, but sometimes I miss the intensity, the thick atmospheric oil slick of audible sorrow in which his voice blazed unquenchably on the ocean like Greek fire. If there was more of that fat intensity brought forward in the mix that would be a great thing, but this is merely a clash of stylistic decision, the blade is definitely double edged. So here’re three stars for three great listens; for love, for confusion, and for reckoning. I know this is the start of something special, and I can sense the direction. I now want the fish course or even the main; I reckon he could even embrace a touch of evil! Thanks lad.