Angel Air Records (label)
21 January 2013 (released)
21 January 2013
This release is not just a tale of two albums on one CD, it’s also a tale of at least three cities if not more.
Welcome to the world of bravura songwriter David Courtney, one of the most successful talents ever to grace the rock- and pop firmament. From co-writing Leo Sayer’s biggest hits ‘The Show Must Go On’ and ‘One Man Band’, Courtney is also responsible for having played a major part in launching Roger Daltrey’s solo career (having written / co-written his debut album ‘Giving It All Away’). Other individuals who had the pleasure to collaborate with Courtney are his former business partner Adam Faith, Steve Ellis, and Joe Egan of Steeler’s Wheels.
Not being content, however, with delighting others with his talent, Courtney recorded his own albums as well… Two of which feature on this CD: ‘Midsummer Madness’ and ‘Shooting Star’.
For the recording of this album, Courtney decided to base himself at the Chateau d’Hérouville in the Oise Valley, near Paris. He was in good company (and good taste), as previous visitors had included Marc Bolan/T.Rex (a clip of which can be seen on the ‘Slider - 40th Anniversary’ DVD), David Bowie, The Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd to name but a few. But the one guest who turned the place into ‘the Honky Chateau’ was pinball wizard Elton John.
Little wonder then that Mr. Courtney felt inspired left, right and centre for his ‘Midsummer Madness’, a work which includes some brilliant songs like ‘Dear John’ (later covered by Roger Daltrey), ‘No Hero’, and ‘Madness In The City’ (co-written by Andrew Lloyd Webber collaborator, Tim Rice).
However, one song would turn out to become his signature track not only on the album, but also in Courtney’s personal life: ‘The Easy Way Out’ – about the suicide of a young woman - turned into a case of life imitating art when a few years later, the artist’s Venezuelan wife fell to her death from the balcony of her 7th floor apartment!
Upon the album’s completion and Courtney’s return to the UK, it was decided that mixing duties should go to legendary Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick. For whatever the reason, our recording artist didn’t feel a 100% convinced about the results and so, in another decision that left various folks bewildered, ‘Midsummer Madness’ was shelved before it ever reached the light of day (or record shops, for that matter).
Now, thirty-five years later, Courtney re-visited the tapes he wisely had kept safe and finally considered the lot worthy enough to be unleashed upon the world. Thanks to Angel Air Records, it’s available to everyone.
So, how do the songs – originally recorded in 1976 – fare in 2013?
As already mentioned, ‘Madness In The City’ was co-penned by Tim Rice, and the resulting sound has ‘rock musical’ written all over it. Courtney’s well-balanced vocals add the flavour, but it’s Phil Kenzie’s resplendent saxophone that strongly intensifies the composition.
‘No Hero’ drifts between slow-mo vocals and keyboards, while contrasting, punchier guitar solos give it a rockier edge.
Totally different is ‘Dear John’ with its controlled and choppy jazz-funk rhythm – Courtney couldn’t quite decide whether to speak or to sing on this one, therefore opted to do both… A real great number and, once again, with the right amount of saxophone thrown in. No wonder that Roger Daltrey chose to cover it!
The ironically titled ‘The Kremlin Won’t Like It’ (because back in the day, the Kremlin probably wouldn’t have) starts out loungey and simmering, though apart from its sheer technical skill there’s nothing too outstanding here. Saving this number from its wintery slumber is the punctuated riff-work, thus adding the musical equivalent of several pungent vodka shots.
‘Why Do The Good Guys Die?’ is a question I don’t have an answer for, but I do know that this particular track would sound even more intriguing were it covered by one Sarah Brightman!
Something must have happened to Courtney’s voice during the recording of ‘Keeper’, as he sounds a darn side more gravely than on all the other tracks. I’m not suggesting it’s a bad thing, I’m merely stating the obvious here. As for the music: a bit of 70’s prog-rock perfectly complements Courtney’s choice of voice.
‘Los Dias Del Sol’ (‘The Days Of The Sun’) suggests exactly that: warm, sunny, with a hint of Latin America. It’s also a rather short instrumental. But mainly it’s short. Like sunny spells in Great Britain!
The ethereal, haunting quality of ‘The Easy Way Out’ turns Courtney’s most famous piece into a timeless classic – beautifully performed with a moody and melancholy piano for support. Pass me the hanky please!
Closing number ‘Save The Encores’ is a blend of classic rock, some harder rock, a bit of jazz, a bit of this, a bit of that… Well, make up your own mind. But my oh my is it skilfully executed.
Ok, now it’s getting slightly complicated and I, for one, don’t have enough time on my hands to dish out the whole prologue concerning the background story to this 1980’s output. Except that his time ‘round, Courtney had opted to record his new album in Los Angeles. So, as the Yanks tend to say, let’s cut to the chase.
Before I start dissecting the album, it’s perhaps worth mentioning that Courtney chose his passion for unidentified flying objects – in short, Ufology - as the concept for ‘Shooting Star’. And why not – after all, other artists such as Hawkwind dedicated most of their musical career to similar topics.
Opener ‘The Boys In A Dream’ has, err, a sedate and dreamlike ambience running through the song. It’s sort of soft-rock, yet heavy on the keyboards. The chorus stands out through layering the multiple vocals, and the songs picks up on pace halfway through.
Second track ‘We Need You’ starts in an interesting manner, for the slightly pompous opening chords/keys are almost identical to Meat Loaf’s ‘Bats Out Of Hell’. It barely lasts half a minute though, and gives way to some distorted electro rock and even more distorted vocals (not to mention sound effects presumably mimicking the landing and the take-off of flying saucers). Very 80’s electro indeed, and unfortunately not quite my cup of tea.
‘Questions’ is self-explanatory as far as the lyrics go, but once again I find this track almost static in composition and its musical execution.
Finally, ‘Goodbye Home’ is a number I warm to. The song tells the story of a trip ‘round the universe and unexplored galaxies, while the musical arrangement thankfully remains more grounded and isn’t spoiled by an overpowering electro sound. There’s a proper melody to it, actually!
Things get all cosmic and distorted again on ‘Mind Radio’, before taking on considerable more organic forms with ‘Pure Emotion’. I mean, we’re talking a proper rock song here, complete with groove and nice riff work by John Verity. Whoa, beam me up, Scotty!
The Courtney penned ‘Shooting Star’ was, in fact, already a hit a few years earlier for a musical formation called Dollar, who scored a UK Top-20 position with it. The version on this album starts out with a seemingly endless special effects sound composition (think Forbidden Planet the movie), before the spaceship lands on planet experimental pop-rock/prog-rock (think early Genesis, complete with dominant keyboard sound).
By now, readers of this review might have gathered that ‘Shooting Star’ won’t make it amongst my personal fave albums, and that’s a true observation. I much prefer a little midsummer madness to alien electronic sounds. But each to their own!
To be fair, ‘Shooting Star’ (the album) even was considered at one point to have a film made around it – starring the late Michael Jackson (a ‘Scientologist’). There’s irony for you! But the galaxy had other plans, and the same can be said when another suggested collaboration with Beach Boy Mile Love crashed onto ground (though in this case, it was Courtney who did the deliberate crashing).
Still, here is the album – unplugged and about 23 years later. Really, what are 23 earthly years compared to light years?