Monday, November 05, 2012

The Wake "A Light Far Out" (LTM)
 
Ever since LTM performed the public service of reissuing the mighty Wake's back catalogue in 2001, we'd harboured a fantasy that the band might yet be working on a fifth album, the first since 1994's "Tidal Wave Of Hype". We were encouraged by flickers of activity from Caesar and Carolyn, like the emergence of the excellent and upbeat "Town Of 85 Lights" (which ended up on LTM's "Black Music" compilation), and the downplayed brace of albums from the Occasional Keepers (a Wake and Trembling Blue Stars-encompassing supergroup: come to think of it, "Town of 85 Lights" appeared on the second of those records, too). Aside from those outings, however, we heard nothing. Forlorn, we assumed our hopes would never come to fruition. Not for the first time, however, how wrong we were. Yes, a mere 18 years after that fourth long-player comes a new Wake album, "A Light Far Out". Dreams never end.

It's quickly apparent that the crowingly sardonic, post-modern cheekiness of much of their work for Sarah ("Provincial Disco", for example, or both sides of the "Major John" 7") has been jettisoned in favour of something that closer recalls the icier whirl of their younger, Factory days. But we don't see "A Light Far Out" as evidence of the Wake coming 'full circle', or returning wholly to their roots. For a start, there's plenty here to please the devotee of the '90s-era Wake. Instead, it feels more that the Wake are intent on cementing their reputation, on showing that they *can* still do thoughtful miserabilism from the oldschool, and do it so much better than anyone else.

Take the opening track, "Stockport". Just as third LP "Make It Loud"'s quirky anti-Tony Wilson anthem "Joke Shop" shadowed him back and forth from Factory's old offices in Palatine Road, Manchester, the new album opener pays passing homage to another highway from the Wake's early history: Waterloo Road, Stockport, once home to Strawberry Studios (where the Wake recorded "Harmony"). But that's where any resemblance ends: "Joke Shop", while a barbed and elegant broadside, was essentially a narrative piece. "Stockport" is anything but, a keyboard-laden pearl of metropolitan ennui ("towns all look the same / it's the same old rope... when you break it down, it's the same routine") tinged with pretty melodic swirls. It positively *glides*, with all due ceremony, over the debris of a distant past.

"Stockport" is followed by "If The Ravens Leave", a bona fide Wake classic devalued only, in this context, by the fact that it also appeared on that second Occasional Keepers' record, "True North". Nevertheless, from the first flickers of clicking electronica through to its deftly assembled sepia verses, "Ravens" is a reminder of just how good a band the Wake can be, a song to rival "English Rain", "Talk About The Past" or "Carbrain" in the gilded firmament of their back catalogue. On its heels, "Methodist"', with its early Wake-ish title, is an ornate stained-glass window piece of a song which tenderly explores the overlaps - and distinctions - between conviction and religion.

The one obvious connector to the Sarah years comes next. "The Back Of Beyond" originally appeared - albeit only as an instrumental - on "Tidal Wave Of Hype". Bizarrely but welcomely, it's now *back*, this time garnished with somewhat intriguing lyrics about some delicate protest singers who are getting flayed by an unsympathetic audience (lyrics that cradle a nice "Crush The Flowers" callback, too). The song makes infinitely more sense in its new form, and you even find yourself singing along to Caesar's dry "and the band went on and on, again and again" (not far off the chorus lyric from I Ludicrous' "We're The Support Band", strangely enough). It's thoroughly enjoyable, even if its comparative irreverence and effervescence jars slightly with the statelier pace and themes of the other tracks here.

The second half of the album treads a very different path from "Beyond", carefully exploring a stripped-down sound and demanding (but rewarding) a little more perseverance. "Starry Day" is the one track on which Carolyn Allen's vocals lead, and it's so brittle and beautiful that it almost feels like a song Bobby could have written for Annemari, back in the day (not least with Ian Catt at the controls, as he is on a number of the tracks here). The glacial, brushing "Faintness", in contrast, has no vocals at all (perhaps a version with vocals will appear on any sixth LP, circa 2030 ?) but with its rainsoaked pathos, lightly-sketched electronics and brittle guitar it could almost be a sister to "If The Ravens Leave".
 
Then we come to the epic, atmospheric title track, some nine minutes arranged broadly in three movements (Clare and Matt wouldn't have stood for that, we're sure). The first movement builds up the back story, "the searching" as the Orchids might have had it: "is there any sign of a storyline... is there a glimmer somewhere ?" The second, ushered in by sampled seaside sounds, is a layered, mannered, delicate instrumental, providing time for reflection. And the third, the most effective of all, is where the band unfurl a plaintive conclusion, try to achieve resolution: "there *is* a light far out, over there", sings Caesar, "and that's enough for me, that's all there has to be". It's aching, optimistic, really quite affecting. This is the point on the album at which the Wake are most obviously showing off their maturity and confidence. It's then time to end proceedings with "The Sands", which continues the coastal theme. Unassuming (more simply strummed guitars) yet immaculate and austere, its awestruck lyrics trace and stretch a gentle sadness almost to breaking point: and then "A Light Far Out" is over.

At various points on listening to the album we appalled ourselves by almost being ready to chastise it for sounding profoundly like Trembling Blue Stars or Harper Lee, and then having to remind ourselves of the fact that the Wake were carving this niche - with no little decorative splendour - *years* before those bands even existed; that in their younger days both Bobby Wratten and Keris Howard seemingly paid exacting attention to the Wake, particularly in the fecund period from "Here Comes Everybody" to "Gruesome Castle". To the extent the Wake are "stealing" anything from other bands' sounds, they're only stealing it back. (Keeping it Factory, Peter Hook said something similar when New Order's "All The Way" was accused of appropriating the Cure. He no doubt had in mind some of Robert Smith's nods to Joy Division, as well as the fairly naked inspiration that "The Walk" derived from "Blue Monday").

That's all by the by, though. The reality is that "A Light Far Out", as a whole, couldn't have been made by anyone else, and perhaps that's all we wanted from it (even if, as you can tell from our excitable overwordiness, we got far more). Our love for the Wake is well documented: "A Light Far Out" ensures that it is a love which remains undimmed.

No comments: