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News From Babel - Letters Home CD (album) cover

LETTERS HOME

News From Babel

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.51 | 21 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

penguindf12
Prog Reviewer
5 stars This is such a wonderful album. The MOOD is what gets me. Song after song -- sobering melancholy. Woodwinds, brilliant drum work, and harp. The whole thing feels like winter, alone. A night before the fire in a wooden cabin at the world's end. Robert Wyatt's presence really helps.

"This life is bare and cold, and I am old and tired of truth," he sings. "Must we forever make our history in this cold country?" Nuclear snowflakes have already fallen. (Who Will Accuse).

"The Hearts of Stone" rocks a bit more, sounding a bit more like Art Bears. Some exotic-ish dance music also ekes in, along with klezmer & a bit of cabaret. Not as touching as the opener, but it'll do.

"Banknote" employs a Clavinet and features a new singer. "I nailed a banknote to a tree, but it did not nourish me..." Here a theme of environmental investigation begins, with the alienated individual searching the forest for meaning.

"Moss" continues this search. These are Chris Cutler's best lyrics. When Robert Wyatt sings "I was not deceived" like the most disappointed Man on Earth, you know that God is Dead. The outro features piano with harp accompaniment, bringing back memories of a childhood when things used to MATTER.

The subject matter changes completely on "Mass," a funky number featuring Clavinet bass lines and harp-plucking accompaniments. Bits of this song could work well as sampled hip-hop beats. The male singer sounds very cool, and the texts focus on one of Cutler's favorite "Science"-type subjects -- the Black Hole. The ending speed-up is excellent.

"Dark Matter" is a nifty waltz & another "Science" number. If it sounds a bit off-kilter, it's because the gravity was deflected by unseen forces. I like it.

Robert Wyatt appears again for "Waited," a return to the melancholic feel of the earlier tunes (no more "Science" for this album, ah!). It is a studied Dirge, interrupted at intervals for a flurry of percussion, melodic saxes, and other things. The ending takes its sweet time plodding along in true Dirge style.

"Fast Food" chronicles what I do every day for lunch, eating alone at Arby's, wearing headphones, and satisfied. I love these lyrics. The music is at first mysterious, becoming rock n' roll, then klezmer, and back again in a cycle.

The final song acts as the closer - soft and mysterious - mystical. Sadly, it's not that great -- the pace is very tentative, the lyrics are pretty overwrought, and it seems to wander aimlessly much of the time. But the finale seems to bring everything together as Dagmar's voice is replaced by Robert's. I don't know what it means -- but it sounds powerful.

This is definitely News from Babel's best album, the first being far too heavy-handed. Here, in a much more emotional landscape, their beauty flourishes.

penguindf12 | 5/5 |

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