‘Seasons are changing, but some things they stay quite the same’ is what the song says, and it’s true. Some twenty or so seasons ago, The Flowing released a fine debut album called Garden Of England. After abandoned sessions, line-up changes and what feels like an eternity, finally we have a new album from them called Talk About Wonder, launched under the stars on a lightship on the tidal River Medway in the most appropriately metaphoric manner just a few weeks ago in December.
The album begins with “The Voyage” which, like the opening chapters of a novel, establishes the characters and foreshadows what will follow. It builds gradually, starting with Dave Pickett’s guitar and voice, Theo Dudhill’s bass and gradually introducing and interweaving Hannah Ellerby’s violin, Vicky Price’s French horn and Sophie Williams’ graceful, precise vocal. There is a sense of timelessness and folklore that pervades the whole album, and it’s established here. By the time the song is done, you feel as though you’ve watched and listened to a close knit group entering an old tavern, their dialogue beginning with greetings and gradually giving way to the complex yet perfectly understood song of dynamic conversation.
As the album progresses, through “Blood” and “By Morning” to the (at first) familiar “We Will Not Go” and beyond, we are connected on both a spiritual and existential level to doubt, death (as present in this album as in life), fear, a saviour bent double on the pavement and tigers in the jungle heading straight for us. And this is all before the half time whistle. The brush strokes are broader and darker in places too, with sparse electric guitars echoing just enough discomfort to jar us awake from the spell cast by the seemingly telepathic band. In contrast there are arrangements with absolutely no excess on them at all, such as on “Alis“, where virtuosity and sparseness complement each other to perfection. Sometimes it’s about what you don’t play.
“The Driver” seems to signify the start of the journey home, galloping along on an urgent snare drum, except it’s a journey where you’re being asked to sell your soul and you’ve been warned not to trust the driver. It’s upbeat, but it’s disconcerting. It drops away to reveal the Davey Graham-esque introduction to “Mountain Song“. Here be doubt once again, as though we ate the lotus at the beginning of the previous song and now it’s worn off. There’s a sense of being exposed and isolated at the same time, as cymbals crash like confidence. ‘Do you wonder the same as me’?
All is restored in time. “Seasons” seems at least partially reconciled, even though there’s still a devil there. ‘There’s a castle in the headlights in the distance. I’m stumbling for change’ sings Pickett, as beautiful, hopeful and fragile a lyric as you’ll hear anywhere. The song itself is beautiful almost beyond description. This must be the last song. Surely nothing can follow this.
But it does. There’s resignation, humour and a chance to sing along in “The Eyes Of Great Men“. Every band member gets the chance to shine one last time as vocals are shared and the violin laughs about ‘…this town we love and loathe’. Love it or loathe it, or do both at the same time, but the eyes of great men inhabit it.
We finish the album back in the imagined tavern where we began. The conversation has given way to unaccompanied song. The tavern evaporates and we’re back in Medway on a grey January day. It’s OK though. Just hit Play and you can go back any time you like.
Talk About Wonder is perfect. No review can possibly do it justice. Just listen and let go.