Illuminated 1983 / Gonzo 2017
Acclaimed illustrator’s aural drawings add Arcadian colors to plastic decade.
Martin Springett may not be a household name even for those classic rock aficionados who can vividly recall the artwork of Ian Hunter’s self-titled solo debut which bore striking imagery without hinting at the visual artist’s own musical talents, yet the early ’80s saw the Canada-based British ex-pat come up with this album. Resolutely out of its time, “The Gardening Club” offered soft folk tinted with sci-fi proggery when the world was firmly latched onto synth-pop and couldn’t care less about a 12-string troubadour weaving romantic yarns about ancient heroes and interstellar wanderers – only to catch up with the record recently, when the veteran came up with a sequel.
Not that the original LP has lost any of its charm – full of dulcet, if intricate, instrumental passages such as “The Garden” but never shying away from electric fantasy which will drive “Andromeda” through a mellow nebulae towards the pastorale of “Rebirth” – one quirky enough to retain an art-rock aroma. Immediately creating adventurous atmosphere, the sweet strum of “Midnight Road” appears as inviting and unobtrusive as moonlight, while the drift can also get hilarious, as in the retro twang and croon covering “Mole Hole Blues” with harmonic patina and spilling its jazz into “The Traveller” whose sax-spiced dance is greased with cosmic funk along the way.
Closer to the city, and Martin’s approach will become playful, as “Three Days At Brighton” suggests in scintillating, effects-sprinkled terms. Still, gradually, the momentum is being dispensed with, so the West Coast-inspired reverie of “The Stone That Speaks” doesn’t impress, and the “Endersby” suite would find it difficult to engage the listener, especially when vocals lose a clear melodic direction in favor of lyrical musing, although guitar waves help the mood ascend to celestial heights. There is an exciting, cinematic promise to “The Riddle Overture” – one of a handful of demo-like bonus tracks which, all rather punchy, fall beyond the album’s context, yet hearing a subtle riff in “After The Glow” or finding funky fusion in “Upside Down Blackbird” – pieces that, had they been given a proper production polish, could make period pop chartbusters – is a pleasant surprise.
The artist released more albums further down the line, yet this one – reissued with a richly illustrated booklet – remains Springett’s finest hour… At least until the aforementioned sequel is out.