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No-Man - Returning Jesus CD (album) cover




Psychedelic/Space Rock

3.84 | 175 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars I've really not been looking forward to this review, as I can't make up my mind about this album.

"Slow it all down", BOWNESS sings on 'Returning Jesus', and they do. This album is almost completely devoid of any dance sensibilities, being rather a collection of ambient and minimalist ballads. Any slower and they'd be going backwards. NO-MAN was once layers of rich sound backing BOWNESS's laconic vocals: now the music is as laconic as the words.

The consensus among reviewers is that 'Returning Jesus' is one of NO-MAN's strongest - if not the strongest - album. Not for me. I've tried to pin down exactly why, given the delicate soundscapes WILSON and BOWNESS gift us with, , but I suspect it's nothing more than paling by comparison to 'Flowermouth' and 'Together We're Stranger'.

The opening two tracks pass by without a murmur of interest. They seem barely alive. It's not until 'Close Your Eyes' that I find myself captured: what a beautiful track, simple but with a lovely recurring three-note motif and (yes, yes, yes, he cried) a slow build of the sort I'd feared we'd never see again from this band. 'Carolina Skeletons' is an excellent single, all bones and elbows, but we've already seen both these tracks two years previously. 'Outside the Machine' is worthwhile without being spectacular, the music little more than a framework for BOWNESS's message of rejection: "I don't need you." 'Returning Jesus' and 'Slow it all Down' are really one track, forming the gracious, shimmering core of the album, followed by 'Lighthouse', my favourite track here. Interestingly, this was in existence in demo form in 1994 - and it shows. Would have been right at home on 'Flowermouth' or even 'The Sky Moves Sideways'. In fact, I think I hear THE ORB in there somewhere too. 'All That You Are', a beautiful single, closes the album. Oddly, this single was not released until after the next album.

So lots of good stuff. Some great stuff even. Why am I so uneasy then?

See, by now PORCUPINE TREE had evolved from a self-confessed joke band through space-rock to an increasingly tight crossover prog band, a real player on the global stage. NO-MAN was the poor relation. Listening to this album, I have the feeling that we don't get as much of STEVEN WILSON as we have the right to expect. Certainly not given these songs were up to seven years in the making. Kudos for WILSON for not abandoning the project, especially in the light of what was to come, but I can't help wondering what he might have made of some of these tracks had this still been his main project. Perhaps they'd be exactly the same.

It doesn't make sense, but unaccountably, every time I reach the end of this album, I feel disappointed. A curmudgeonly three stars, though my head tells me it's worth four. No, I've changed my mind. Four stars. Too beautiful for three.

russellk | 4/5 |


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