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STILL (Manticore/Japanese Victor VICP-60813) [1973]

STILLUSION (Voiceprint VP152CD) [1973/1993]

Peter Sinfield is a man who has an impressive resume. After Ian McDonald introduced him to Giles, Giles & Fripp, he gave the group their new name: King Crimson. He became King Crimson’s lyricist and after the other members of the group quit in late 1969, he “owned the band” with Robert Fripp (as he put it later). In late 1971 “musical differences” caused his departure as well.  

But by March of 1972 he was in the studio, producing the first Roxy Music album (his first turn at producing), and he kept busy after that with a variety of projects for Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s new Manticore label. One was “collaborating” on the lyrics for ELP’s own BRAIN SALAD SURGERY. Another was supplying English lyrics for the Italian band, Premiata Forneria Marconi, whose PHOTOS OF GHOSTS was a remake of material from their first two Italian albums, for Manticore. Sinfield also wrote the lyrics for PFM’s second Manticore album, THE WORLD BECAME THE WORLD.

But he also recorded a solo album in late 1972 and early 1973 for Manticore. That was STILL. “Produced Roxy Music…Thought if these guys can do it maybe I can…Moved to Somerset and started to write STILL with friends and neighbors…,” Sinfield said later.

I recall wondering, when I first saw that album, what it would be like.   I could imagine, based on his work with King Crimson, that it would be full of wordplay and lyrical fireworks, but what would the music be like?   I was a bit reassured to see that one piece (“Under The Sky”) was a collaboration with his old friend, McDonald. Other tracks were credited solely to Sinfield or to a collaborative group (Brunton, Dolan, Jump, Mennie, Sinfield are credited with “Will It Be You,” “Wholefood Boogie,” and “Still” and Brunton, Collins, Jump, Sinfield get the music credit for “The Night People”) – but one, “The Song of the Sea Goat,” is credited to Jump, Sinfield and Vivaldi. And who, I wondered, was this “Jump”?

Nineteen musicians (in addition to Sinfield himself, who plays 12 string acoustic guitar and synthesizer) were used on the album, including ex-, present- and future-Crimsons Greg Lake, Mel Collins, Robin Miller, Keith Tippet, Boz Burrell, John Wetton and Ian Wallace.   Collins did the brass and flute arrangements. “Jump” turns out to be keyboardist Phil Jump – of whom I’ve not heard before or since this recording, but whose contribution is a major one.

The album opened with its most stunningly perfect track, “The Song of the Sea Goat.” Brilliant lyrics (“The sea goat casts Aquarian runes through beads of mirrored tears”) are matched with a sublime reworking of a Vivaldi composition to create a quietly powerful work.   It all but segued into “Under The Sky,” a more serene piece.   This was followed by the pedal steel guitar of Brian Cole, introducing “Will It Be You,” one of the best “country” songs ever written by a British progressive rocker. This in turn built up to “Wholefood Boogie,” an up-tempo paean to whole-grain vegetarian food which actually rocks out. Side one of the LP ended with the title track, “Still,” on which Greg Lake shares the lead vocal. It’s a contemplative piece which returns the album’s side to where it began.  

Side two had only four tracks, “Envelopes of Yesterday,” “The Piper,” “A House of Hopes and Dreams” and “The Night people.” I was so pleased with the first side of the album that it took me a while to move on to the second, the first three tracks of which were solely by Sinfield, but it was equally rewarding, ranging from near-chamber music (flutes, English horns) to Mingus-like jazz (“The Night People”) which makes for a beautifully raucous ending to the album. 

Sinfield’s vocals were appropriate to each song, celebratory or sly as the lyrics called for, but his voice was a bit thin – a “composer’s” voice rather than a “singer’s” voice – and it’s easy to understand why he did not go on to pursue a career as a solo singer/songwriter. He used a variety of production tricks to bolster his vocals. 

STILL was an album of songs. There were no instrumental suites, no side-long symphonies. But the songs each were finely crafted, subtle rather than startling, and full of hidden pleasures which rewarded replays.   Sophisticated and adult, but at the same time true to the musical ethic which had inspired the pioneers of progressive rock: the ambition to make their music the best it could be, no matter what its type or nature. In this the sequencing of an album is as important as its individual compositions.   Sinfield paced the album, treating each side of the original LP as a complete work, which starts relatively quietly and builds from there. Side one calms down at its end, preparing us for the beginning of side two, which builds steadily to its conclusion. If someone was required to do one and only one solo album, STILL offered an excellent model.

After STILL and Sinfield’s work with ELP and PFM, he seemed to disappear for a long time (see the Postscript below), but resurfaced in the ‘90s as the author of hit songs for pop stars.   And, in 1993, Voiceprint decided to reissue his album.   Indeed, they had an added inducement: two “bonus tracks” recorded for an aborted second album. In his brief notes for this CD, Sinfield says “…started new album hence ‘Fool’ and ‘Fire’…but was seduced to work with ELP…my song ‘Heart of Stone’ sung by Cher tells all!” (Ellipses are Sinfield’s.) The new songs are actually “Can You Forgive A Fool” and “Hanging Fire,” and they fit seamlessly in with the earlier pieces.

To prove that point, Voiceprint completely resequenced the album, putting “Can You Forgive A Fool” at the beginning (following it with the original album closer, “The Night People”), and “Hanging Fire” fourth. “The Song of the Sea Goat” ends up next to last, and the CD closes with “Still.”   I suppose that if this CD is your first acquaintance with the album this version will be an enjoyable one. But if you know the LP by heart,   anticipating the first note of the next song as the previous one ends, this CD comes as an unpleasant shock.   It’s a bit like hearing the Beatles’ SGT. PEPPER resequenced: rudely jarring.   And mixing the two new songs in allows them to disappear within the album; I would have vastly preferred them added to the end, as proper bonus tracks usually are.   To underscore the changes made in the album, Voiceprint also retitled it as STILLUSION, while using the original cover painting. (Inside, in the booklet, “Fool” gets a credit – “Music: Sinfield, Brunton” – but “Fire” does not. And the cover painting is overlaid on each page in tones of gray making the tiny type on those pages difficult to read.)

In 1999 Japanese Victor began re-releasing all the Manticore albums as mini-LPs – miniaturized replications of the original LP packages – in “20 bit K2 Super Coding” remastered CDs. And among all the ELP and PFM albums was STILL.   Aside from its excellent sound, this CD offers virtually the same experience as the original LP. It’s a gatefold with all the lyrics and credits reproduced inside in tiny type. A separate booklet offers more readable lyrics in both English and Japanese, with accompanying notes in Japanese (which, interestingly, mention STILLUSION and its extra two songs).

For my money the opportunity to have the original STILL, correctly sequenced, on CD outweighs the advantage of two extra songs on STILLUSION. But the latter may be easier to find in domestic record stores – although it too is an import. In any event I do highly recommend this unsung masterpiece in whichever version you can find.

A POSTSCRIPT: The notes of the Japanese reissue of STILL reminded me of Sinfield’s most obscure album contribution, which is worthy of a brief but separate mention here. And that is ROBERT SHECKLEY’S IN A LAND OF CLEAR COLORS, a limited-edition book/album released in a numbered edition of 1,000 for (originally) $100.00 a copy. The project came together on the Spanish island of Ibiza, and was published by the Galeria el Mensajero on Ibiza in 1979.  

Essentially it came about while science fiction author Sheckley was living on Ibiza and became drinking buddies with the Galeria owner Martin Watson Todd and Peter Sinfield. (Sinfield: “I met Bob Sheckley in Ibiza where I spend much of my time these last years getting drunk and thinking about doing something more constructive than getting drunk.” )

I wrote about this book/album in the January, 1980 issue of Heavy Metal:   “What happened was that Sinfield – who had also produced Roxy Music’s first album and thus met Brian Eno in the process – had gone to live on Ibiza, an island off Spain, and there he’d met Robert Sheckley (who was also living there then) and a man named Martin Watson Todd, who ran the Galeria el Mensajero, a local art gallery. Then one day Brian Eno came to visit his friend Sinfield, and became part of the local social group of expatriates and artistic types.   ‘I didn’t know who this fellow Eno was at first,’ Sheckley recalls. ‘I’d never heard of his music, but he was somebody I could talk to….’”

The end result was the publication of Sheckley’s 1974 novella, “In A Land of Clear Colors,” in a box-slip-cased volume which measures 12¾ inches square and runs to 46 heavy pages with illustrations, plus an LP. The LP (tucked into a pocket in the book’s back cover) consists of Peter Sinfield’s narration of Sheckley’s story (somewhat edited for time; the full version appears as the book’s main text), with “background music” (much of it very ambient) in places by Eno.

Some collectors bought this “multimedia album” for the “music by Brian Eno,” and the vast majority of them were disappointed when they heard it, because there isn’t much music on it.

Here’s how I described it in Heavy Metal: “But what of Eno’s music? Let me say immediately that there’s not a whole lot of it – perhaps twenty minutes’ worth, total, out of the approximately fifty minutes playing time of the record. Most of it is atmospheric and specifically keyed to the narration. None of it can be described as ‘rock.’ … The music is a seamless sonic tapestry; it is sound-track music, as specifically functional as sound-track music must always be, and as such it is excellent, reinforcing the imagery of the narrated story.   It fades in and out behind Sinfield’s voice, never intruding, always supporting.   There are only a few brief minutes when the music occupies the stage alone: at the beginning of the record and at the close of side one.” Sheckley’s story is surreal and satirical and Sinfield’s narration is effective. But Eno’s presence is barely felt.

Each of the people involved in this project received a page in the book to talk about themselves, and Sinfield (speaking of himself in third-person) offers this insight into his career: “Peter Sinfield once regarded as a cult figure in Japan and America for his gothic abstract lyrics has recently taken to writing only Rock and Roll and Country and Western songs when asked why replied, ‘I started out on a limb and I’ve been trying to get back to the tree ever since…” (All punctuation or lack thereof strictly sic.   Sinfield’s unedited prose is surprisingly sloppy. And I guess lyrics when sung don’t require correct spellings, which must be why “brakes” is spelled “breaks” in the lyrics for “The Night People.”)   He adds, “Favourite colour…The blues…prefered [sic] composer…J.S. Bach….”

IN A LAND OF CLEAR COLORS has been reissued on CD.







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