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Dead Can Dance - Spleen and Ideal CD (album) cover


Dead Can Dance


Prog Folk

3.66 | 124 ratings

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3 stars Released in 1988, "Spleen and Ideal" (a title taken from one of Charles Baudelaire's "Flowers of Evil" poems) marks a definite change of direction for the Australian duo of Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry, a brisk departure from the gothic rock stylings of their debut album. Here, as in the rest of their following output, the two main influences of the band - medieval and world music - come across very clearly, providing a perfect vehicle of expression for the magnificent vocals of Gerrard and Perry. The album's mood is haunting and rarefied, the voices emoting across a background of deeply resounding instrumentation (cello, trombone and timpani feature heavily, as well as electronic percussion and keyboards).

If compared to its follow-up, "Within the Realm of the Dying Sun", "Spleen and Ideal" is much more vocal-oriented, with duties split equally between the two main band members. The album opens with aptly-titled, solemn "De Profundis (From the Depths of Sorrow), backed by a male choir that reinforces the impression of listening to a religious chant. Then, after another couple of tracks with an almost 'classical' feel, little percussion and slow pacing, things pick up with "The Cardinal Sin", masterfully interpreted by Perry over a bolero-style percussion pattern. Perry is also the star of "Enigma of the Absolute", led by strings and tolling, bell-like sounds, and closing track "Indoctrination (A Design for Living). "Mesmerism" and "Avatar", both sung by Gerrard, feature electronic drums, which add a note of cold precision to the mystical warmth of the singer's voice.

Although vocal duties may be shared, I find "Spleen and Ideal" to be much more Perry's album than Gerrard's. The central section of the album sees him as the undisputed protagonist, in the above-mentioned songs and also in the mid-paced "Advent". As much as I love Perry's voice, this predominance gives the record a vaguely samey feel, abetted by the use of electronic drums in a series of consecutive tracks. Unlike the band's later output, this is very much an album of songs, which may well put off those who, for some reason or another, object to Perry's goth-tinged singing style. Indeed, with the exception of the first two or three tracks, it could almost be said that the music takes a back seat to the vocals.

In spite of these shortcomings, "Spleen and Ideal" is a very enjoyable effort, though not as mature and well-rounded as the likes of "Aion" and "The Serpent's Egg". As I have already stated in my review of "Within the Realm of the Dying Sun", the progressive side of Dead Can Dance's early albums is not as evident as in the later ones, and the frequent use of electronic drums can suggest a kinship to those synth-led musical styles so popular in the Eighties. On the other hand, the sheer quality of the music and the pure magic woven by those two incredible voices would be enough to convince me to recommend this album to discerning prog fans, and give it a well-deserved, solid three-star rating.

Raff | 3/5 |


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