And again he has surprised us!

And again he has surprised us!

"Close Up" album review


It's absolutely unexpected course. No, surely, we knew that Chris Norman was preparing a new album. And that there will be songs in acoustic perfomance. But hardly anyone could ever expect beforehand that they will sound such chamberly, lyrical and even lovingly sometimes. Most likely, many of us were impatiently awaiting that it will be a good quality set of another's works or maybe of something from his own, old and famous songs. But when several months before the release it became known that there will be practically only new stuff – that only heightened intrigue of waiting.


But hasn't anybody of us got used heretofore to one of the main qualities of our Maestro, that is just his phenomenal ability to surprise an audience constantly by something new, something special and non-hackneyed? He is like that in everything – in music, in concert perfomances and even in image, changing all the time. That's why we know for sure that now Chris is not the same at all in his creativity like he was one, three, ten, thirty or forty years ago. And it's absolutely clear that he will change again by all means already in a year if not earlier. The main thing that all these changes occur not for the sake of themselves but because he just lives by them. This person simply can't stand still, you know. He needs progress, development and still new vistas and prospects. And every time we have barely got used to him properly again as to the “new” one, and he changes again.

That's why also this time there shouldn't be any surprises. It seems...
The album “Close Up” has just stunned me.

The songs were recorded with minimal quantities of applied means. But this is not a minimalism for the alleged purposes of variety's sake, by no means. But quite the contrary. Only few, even very venerable artists made up their minds to such “simple” expression of their talents in such a bold way. Briefly, clear, without luxuries and overloads in arrangements behind which main ideas and objectives get lost sometimes.

Every note, every sound is detailed in this album. They are just let through the whole talent of performer and his soul. To add that he is also the author of all the songs and, I suppose, of all instrumental parts. Listen to the sounds of the piano. Playing of the string Pavao Quartet on this album is practically beyond comments or discussions at all. It seems that this music was specially made for rendering by violinists.

And, no doubts, the acoustic guitar of Maestro... Sometimes soft and anxious, whose arpeggio makes you listen attentively, think and dream. And sometimes it's a rollicking “strummer” which we got used to long ago and already can't imagine them without each other – Chris Norman and his guitar.

And mouth organ is just a nice adornment. It's quite as much as it was needed to emphasize the musical theme of the song “Survival” and to give it some just transcendental purity.

And, of course, the voice…

That's all. Nearly.

Also there are lyrics whose kindness, wisdom and sorrow just sends shivers down your spine. And at the same time you can see there a philosophical attitude to life and its problems which all in all sounds absolutely life-assertingly. Mature poetry of a mature wise man.

I won't conceal, of course, that when I heard the album (or to be more precise - its parts) for the first time I firstly, just like many of us, came under influence of our good old stereotypes. I thought - oh, here I'd like to add electric guitar, there – drums or at least some percussion, and in this place I'd wish powerful keyboards and saxophone solo, and how it could be here at all without backing vocals... But already after the second or third listening it became absolutely obvious – everything is right, everything hit the mark. For instance, what tambourine can we talk about in the song “I Melt Away” if the guitar there puts out such a rhythm which makes your hands and feet to beat in time as it is. The point is that we ourselves were not quite ready for the correct perception of that album and were taken by surprise to some extent by such a “singularity”. However, let's remember that Chris had made a plenty of unordinary things in his career. I even won't speak about his solo years. In any Smokie album there were “unconventional” songs in “Not-Smokie-Sound”. And saying frankly, because of such songs those albums became only better and more significant.

But I shouldn't also be cunning, it's right. I wouldn't believe to anybody who would say that haven't expected at all anything so familiar and close to the heart, something “Smokie-like” in this new album. And please – “Hello Baby” and “I Melt Away”. That's it, as the saying goes – there is life in the old dog yet. Both things are 100% old Smokie. Even the beginnings are similar – traditional catching guitar arpeggio and then... Oh, it seems, where are you, fellows Alan and Terry, with your voices... Both songs even now can be put into any compilation kind of “Smokie-Sound-The-Best-1975-2007”. But seriously speaking, it's yet unknown why we can exactly more admire these tracks in the album – maybe that was our expectations' satisfaction, but maybe more this is exactly that old chap Chris…

Compositions “Trying To Find My Home” and “When The Midnight Hour Is Calling” are very interesting, as for me. The first one is, no doubts, paying homage to Bob Dylan. And in a second one we can again enjoy rather simple but such a nice and touching sound of mouth organ.

And here is the most “off-beat” song, as for this album – “Love Not War”. Great! Bright, lively, hacked guitar rhythm decorated with minor key in refrain and just cheerful rhythm-n-bluesy piano solo. This is also somewhat of Chris's early years “influences”, though. But how fresh it is! Also the fact that this song was placed to the album as number two had only added the intrigue during the first listening – wow, what's going to be next…

Though, of course, the main mood, the main impression, the main “weather” in this album is made exactly by all other songs. By the beautiful, harmonious and perfect ballads. But not monotonous or tedious at all. They are so different that it's hard to find a position while selecting priorities. They have everything: sadness, romanticism, optimism, pain, joy, look from within, contemplation from above – everything you want. And, of course, I'd mention the highest performance level. Pavao Quartet also deserves individual warm words. They are virtuoso, it's obvious. And they managed to express the spirit of Maestro's music so good! Sometimes the violins sound as in classical music, sometimes deliberately as fiddle in country music, and in some places that are definitely old Smokie-like arrangements!

But as for me, so happened that the first song of this album which I heard was “Sleep Alone Tonight”. Since then my soul has taken a strong liking to it somehow and most of all I did get on with that song. Seems to be everything rather clear but how catching it is! What's that in particular – the music theme itself, the lyrics, the voice, troubled piano chords, the violins or melodic variations?... Or everything taken together?... And the piercing violin part in the middle could do honour to any classical composer. Just something unearthly…

“Baby I Call Your Name” – it's a masterpiece. How splendidly this voice can sound accompanied by only four violins! “Only”…

And here is finale – “Survival”. Here it is, the quintessence of that great album. The whole of Chris Norman is in that song. What's the use to talk about it – he is different for everyone of us. But take a notice that it is the only song on the album where backing vocals were added. As if Maestro himself saying us that he's not alone, he's with everyone of us…

Okay, it's all unusual, unaccustomed, new. It makes you ponder over, reconsider, compare while looking back and trying to think out what will be next… And this “Close Up” probably can't be closer any more. As is.

But the next time everything will be in a new way. He will certainly again surprise us, make us glad, comfort and amuse us, share his wisdom and teach us something again.

P.S. I'm sincerely glad for everyone who will manage to get to the next concerts and will hear these magical songs live. Stun Maestro by thunderous applause and don't forget to give regards to Fiorini… ;)


 © DK67 (Chernigov, Ukraine), 05.11.2007