This is a glorious and gorgeous album. I have listened today with both a sense of nostalgic reverie and genuine awe of Harper’s present, each of course linked to one another. There have been moments of quite emotional appreciation at that link, partly because of my own age [though at 59 I have some distance to Harper’s 72, yet the shared preoccupations and perceptions are narrowed far more than the actual age gap], and this also is in hearing Roy singing as beautifully as ever – the nostalgia – and in listening to him singing of time and years and love with a wisdom that resonates in his present, and me as moved listener.
I have written already of the beauty of Time Is Temporary, the album’s second track, and one could have imagined this wouldn’t be surpassed. It seems churlish to say that it is, but I will do so simply to accentuate the overall beauty, unbearably so at times [in the way nostalgia intrudes on the present by recalling and reminding]. January Man, the third track, is one such exquisite song, and here Roy’s vocal soars so often to his distinctive falsetto and thus one aural reminder of the past. He also moves to bass notes and this variation and depth is mesmerising to hear. The song is swept along by the simple beauty of its composition: musically sweet, and then lyrically as he recalls the intense emotion of love from the past, but also by empathetic strings which become a feature of many songs on this album. The line I lost control of my emotions; I do apologise is so poignant in the context of the whole, and of course in the honest politeness of the gesture.
Fourth The Stranger is a more expansive romantic narrative, and the accompanying mandolin and strings and percussion pick up the pace from the sweetly plucked acoustic guitar. The roused emotion of this lover’s tale is taken to a different emotional height in a classic Harper protest song, fifth Cloud Cuckooland. The most upbeat on the album, with sax and rock riffs, the song rails at the way nothing has changed in the world [from the concerns of the late 60s onwards], we make the same mistakes over and over and over and over, and over and over again. He attacks the corporations and the arms trade here in cloud, cloud, cloud cuckoo land – we are condemned to make the same mistakes over and over and over...... and the song ends with Roy’s wonderful falsetto to bass vocal oscillations and some mean lead guitar. Rousing and meaningful – it may be a familiar diatribe, but the familiar need is what saddens.
The 15 minute epic song Heaven is Here actually merges with the ostensible final song The Exile making 23 minutes in all. 23 minutes of bliss. Whilst the previous tracks have dealt with Roy the man and his reflections on love and loss, this deals with the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, though I haven’t listened enough to follow the narrative line completely where no doubt myth merges with the man in the way past has merged with present. I have listened to the brilliant guitar playing and Roy’s singing, being reminded of how much I admire him as a musician and just being genuinely, joyously swept away to hear this continuing in the present – and thrilled to be seeing him live at the end of October. Other reviewers have commented on Tony Franklin’s fretless bass playing on this long finale and it is an empathetic accompaniment, both in its own beauty and in the tone it brings to the contemplative whole. There is a choric end to Heaven is Here, all echo and snatches of vocal, before segueing into The Exile where there is more plaintive reflection, I am exiled from myself...if I wasn’t alienated, ruminations on age and distance from beginnings and hope perhaps – I’m not sure yet. I am still immersed in the wondrous sound, here Roy’s sublime singing – so profound to hear this now – also echoed, and the resonating electric guitar work.
I hope I have conveyed this to some degree, but I find it hard to recall a time when I have been this moved, indeed uplifted, to hear an album like this – so much expectation of course – but also reminded myself of my own past, and the distance from that time.