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Anthony Phillips - Wise After The Event CD (album) cover

WISE AFTER THE EVENT

Anthony Phillips

 

Symphonic Prog

3.78 | 136 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Einsetumadur
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 11/15P.: The original album? A decently-conceived record of folk- and classic-inspired art pop made unlistenable by inadequate vocals and muddy production. The bonus CD of the reissue? One hour of stunning progressive rock, presented in mostly instrumental form and in finest sound quality. The only case I know in which the bonus material makes a record an essential buy!

THE ORIGINAL ALBUM

In 1977 Anthony Phillips - the pockets filled with old post-Genesis and more recent song ideas - intended to release an album in the unusual LP+EP format, consisting of songs linked by short classical/experimental 'link pieces'. Phillips' task was to a) sing all of the songs himself (encouraged by producer Rupert Hine) and b) to transform his classical ambitions into more accessible and contemporary rock music.

Many people complain that Anthony Phillips cannot sing. I rather think that Anthony Phillips in the mid-1970s simply didn't know how to use his singing voice. On this album he tries to sing art pop, romantic ballads, psychedelic surrealistic tracks and operatic storytelling stuff. You learn soon that it's the psychedelic and the art pop material which Phillips nails (in his own special way, of course!). Unfortunately the ballads and the folky and poetic storytelling make up the majority of the album, and Phillips sings all of the lead and backing vocals on all of the 9 tracks. The intention was to give this album more of Phillips' own personality. In a certain way this idea worked out quite well, but nonetheless this album is a tough listen, particularly since Phillips tends to mistake emotional singing with pathetic singing.

Musically, Anthony Phillips - after publishing his pastoral English masterwork The Geese & The Ghost - in 1977 pursued a direction similar to his former Genesis bandmates: shorter songs, more polysynths and string keyboards and more autumnal opacity in sound. All in all Wise after the Event isn't too far away from Genesis' And Then There Were Three..., but progressive rock listeners might feel more comfortable with the former since Phillips wouldn't want to abandon the Bach-inspired chord progressions and his weird twists in rhythm and arrangement. The Genesis correlations are most obvious in the balladesque pop songs like the really good Moonshooter, in fact one of the three genuinely great cuts on this album with a wonderful chorus, delicate electric guitar counterpoints and the kind of 12-string guitar patterns which already graced Trespass. I can really imagine Phil Collins singing this song, but I cannot imagine his voice would fit in better than Ant's.

The title track is utterly successful as a paranoid journey through an apocalyptic ocean, or something like that - the story behind the lyrics is laden with mythological, historic and simply absurd references. A pretty stark contrast to the previous song, indeed. There are huge walls of reverberated electric 12-string guitars, vocals which sound otherwordly and surreal - and best of all some of the vocal parts and the lengthy instrumental middle part are constructed geniously around the kind of music Bach invented with his famous Praeludia for church organ. Listen to it by yourself, the part at 5:36 in which one acoustic guitar flutters around rapidly around the background of timpani and more than four simultaneous electric guitar arpeggios is one of Phillips' most menacing musical statements.

We're All As We Lie is the third of the really good recordings on the album, a pop song with a (positively) unwieldy after-chorus part ('getting wiser, so much wiser') and a chuntering sitar track rolling along in the chorus. It might be the closest Phillips gets to folk during the course of the album, I mean real folk a la Lal & Mike Waterson, because of the relaxed acoustic finger-picking and the rumbling playing of the rhythm section. Mel Collins, at this time playing with Camel, performs a brief solo on the soprano saxophone which succeeds in adding more colour to the track.

Birdsong works really well, too. This time the gentle vocals sound a bit like George Harrison with a slight taste of glam rock; they sound really good, anyway, wasn't it for the tinny sound production in the vocal parts. The sound is, interestingly, muscular enough in the hawk's throne.. parts as soon as the lush string machine pads appear, so it seems that this peculiar sound in the vocal parts was generated on purpose. It does make the listening more strainful than necessary, and again we have an example why this album doesn't savor its resources fully. In the second part of the song Anthony Phillips plays a rare electric guitar solo, and this solo - played from the second third until the very end - is a really tight performance on top of a chord progression which is strikingly suitable for that purpose. Not a lot of good acoustic guitarist are also good electric guitarists, but the timing and feeling in the bendings and hammer-on runs is really good.

There are also not a lot of good guitarists who are also good pianists. Anthony Phillips, as his romantic composition Regrets proves, is. It's a reflective and melancholy piece of English classical music which, in its compositional fundament, is really good. In this piece Phillips has the courage to mix his vocals in the complete foreground, vocals singing a song in which he composed both the music and the lyrics, and vocals subject to any form of positive or negative criticism - this is honesty I appreciate. This time it's the string arrangements which is a bit problematic; it feels as if it was imposed on the grand piano, taking the piano the air or space which it would have needed. Squirrel, the second piano-dominated track, is a different affair. It consists of grand piano and Anthony Phillips singing about a grey squirrel. 'Squirrel, friend, I see you lying and there's nothing I can do to bring you back.'... the lyrics are a drag and pretentious, the vocals are bad, this is a song which I do not ever want to listen to.

Pulling Faces, a nervous but actually quite alright piece, suffers a lot from the production. The most memorable part is the aloudly rising march in the beginning of the song which is repeated from time to time and which is similar in mood to Genesis' Down and Out, but more on the experimental and Wagnerian side. Anthony Phillips is in fine vocal form, but the vocals (as well as, in fact, everything else) are covered by layers of synthesizers and electric guitars. I cannot point out what exactly has been done wrong while producing it, but it just doesn't feel right. As I said, the song itself is pretty satisfying. Phillips again builds the pre-chorus on those Bach-inspired chords, and in fact it's the same towering harmony like in Pink Floyd's Celestial Voices (G-C-A-D-B-e).

Greenhouse anticipates the glam-rock-inspired pop of Phillips' Sides album. To my ears it is too quirky and whimsical for its own sake, but it's okay.

At last there's Now What (Are They Doing to My Little Friends)?, a longer opus criticising seal hunting from the point of view of God. I appreciate green activism a lot, but with verses like I make everything and it all dies in the end it drifts away into a fairly childish pretentiousness. I mean, what's the point in writing four stanzas from the perspective of four different animals which live their lives and then are shot by hunters? Killing animals in order to sell their fur is a dreadful crime, but these naive lyrics don't do this topic any justice. Furthermore Phillips tries (too) hard to put a lot of emotion in his singing and to depict the resignation (in the stanzas) and anger (in the chorus) about the huntsman's actions, but it just sounds whiny and dreary. Even the instrumentally beautiful outro is stuffed all the way through with this type of singing - I can't listen to this track in spite of its good intention.

THE BONUS MATERIAL:

Until that point this would make a balance of about three stars. But thankfully, Voiceprint Records reissued this album as a 2CD set in 2007. Listening to CD 1 is - at least to me - a really exhausting task because of the strained singing, the frequent and audible incertitude about what the record company wants to hear, the brimmed arrangement and the good compositions ruined by a predilection for bombast and meaningfulness.

Now lay CD 2 into your CD player, relax and allow the music to captivate you.

Similarly to Steve Wilson's recent remix jobs the responsible persons in this case tried to collect kind of an 'alternate' Wise After The Event, presenting every song in at least one different version. In fact, the realization on hand works out even better than The Alternate Crimson King, which sounds a little droughty to my ears. In the case of Wise After The Event 'different' doesn't mean that you get single versions, extended play-out versions or a 'third lead guitar in the foreground' remix. These guys really worked around in the basic substance, prepared and cleaned up demos, created instrumental mix-downs of the album tracks with previously muted instrumental tracks revived and experimented with the conceived link pieces. It seems each little track and each little guitar counterpoint has been listened to and examined carefully in order to guarantee that the alternate versions really allow an as different as possible perspective on the compositions.

A special point of interest for the historically interested listener are the Cottage Tapes, a quarter-hour demo session recorded live in a portable studio by - yes, really! - Anthony Phillips, Michael Giles of King Crimson and John Perry of Caravan, recorded by Rupert Hine of Quantum Jump. They also appear on the original album as Phillips' band, but there you don't recognize their personal styling as well as on these recordings. The Giles-Perry constellation had already proved successful on Kevin Ayers' Confessions of Doctor Dream and Perry's Sunset Wading, and so the music really sounds like a mixture of McDonald&Giles, Caravan (1973 era) and early Genesis. Michael Giles is always on the cue, really upfront and present with his amazing fills; the hi-hat shimmers in every available overtone harmonics, the snare has Giles' characteristic sharp attack, the bass drum rather stays in the background, but still gives the necessary kick - awesome. John Perry plays more restrainedly, but brings in a fair amount of jazz with playful McCartney-like licks in the 12+ frets and a Motownish low end response. Anthony Phillips switches between Spanish (acoustic) guitar in We're All As We Lie and the 12-string electric guitar in Moonshooter and Pulling Faces. Without further beating around the bushes: the sound quality of these demos is many times better than on the original album, the playing is stellar and even without the vocals these three inventive musicians allow an exciting listening experience without any hints of monotony or boredom.

Secondly there are the remixes of the album tracks, and it's the longer or the more piano-based songs which were given this treatment: the title track, Now What?, Squirrel and Regrets.

Wise After The Event in its new mix sounds like another part of the Cottage Tapes - amazing clarity of sound, less mayhem in the arrangements and more clarity to the respective instruments. This time it's not Michael Giles who profits most from the mix, but John Perry and the lots of nice flourishes around his more solid backing track. Michael Giles is engaged in a pretty straight and bottom-heavy drum rhythm in the vein of Ian Wallace's stoic playing on the Islands song; it's fairly unusual to accompany such a piece with such a rhythm, but he nails it - again!

Regrets and Squirrel appear as stand-alone grand piano solos, and both of them are really good - even Squirrel which I didn't like in its vocal version. Regrets is featured sans the orchestra and highlights how both accurate and heartfelt Anthony's piano playing had become. This is genuine classical piano music - it's definitely stuff to listen to concentratedly, and the brilliant sound lets every single note shine - but it's immediate classical music which captivates you without further analysis, simply by feeling it. However good the orchestra might have been arranged (I'm not the right one to judge) they distract from the core of this song. Although I listen to this version more often than to the vocal version, I'm nonetheless glad that the original version exists - the instrumental version is more beautiful, but I still hold the vocal version in high esteem because of its honesty.

The biggest suprise is Now What, which in its instrumental form could be Anthony's most beautiful recording he made using predominantly keyboards. Many people don't know that this track originally featured major overdubs of Mellotron choirs which were (for whatever reason) deleted before release. I suspect that there are also Mellotron strings, but since there are credited string synthesizers it's often hard to distinguish them. A lot of music from the progressive rock genre draws influence from baroque music (Ant's does as well), but you rarely listen to someone making an electrified form of romantic music - apart from Anthony Phillips and Tony Banks. And indeed you find in these piece lots of the guitar and keyboard arpeggios which Phillips (along with Banks and Rutherford) also provided for Genesis in their early years, there are the unusual chord changes played by lovely analogue keyboards and some hints of hammered dulcimer ('zither'), an instrument whose distinctive and brilliant sound - either in its true form or faithfully imitated by a piano - appeared in some Genesis recordings, too. This, along with the instrumental multi-tracked guitar demos of Paperchase and Birdsong, is absolutely the right music for those who enjoyed Genesis' Trespass and Anthony's first Private Parts & Pieces records as much as me. Paperchase is greatly atmospheric, and apart from a neat late-70s organ in the background it's made up of guitar tracks only: acoustic 12-string arpeggios, acoustic guitar strumming, ticking electric guitar counterpoints and a fuzzed Telecaster weeping gently in the intro and the second half of the recording.

I like the Interstellar Plane demo of Greenhouse because of the pretty rough electric guitar which appears somewhere around the middle, but the vocals and the slightly sub-standard sound quality reveal that this is really a genuine demo. A nice addition it is notwithstanding!

The emotional piano piece Magic Garden, the minimalist guitar piece Chinaman and We're All As We Lie Link are rudiments of the link idea which Anthony Phillips had. All three of the tracks were later used for the second Private Parts And Pieces record in different versions, the We're All As We Lie Link (essentially the chorus of the song played repeatedly) in reversed form under a different name. The format of the 'link' is, when you think about it, actually Anthony Phillips' own invention; I'm not too versed in classical music, but a 'link' as a short piece showing a clear musical identity, without being just a filler or a piece subjacent to the surrounding tracks, is something I have never found anywhere else. I do feel reminded both of Brian Eno's ambient collection Another Green World and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, but Phillips' links don't feel like stopping places on a walk through a gallery at all. The links are primarily of historical interest, but they are indeed historically interesting. Adding material like this to a CD release reveals that the person planning the reissue has really thought about the album, its context and the music.

I don't care a lot about the We're All As We Lie single version, but this is only one single version whilst other record labels sell reissues with single versions as the only bonus track. So this shan't even be a slight criticism of the reissuers' work.

Taken together, the bonus material and the wonderful reissue - including liner notes which aren't as extensive as those of the The Byrds remasters, but which are great enough - are able to elevate an exciting, but bulky album of 3-star quality to a total rating of 4-stars. I would only have liked some printed lyrics in the booklet. Friends of the early Genesis and Anthony Phillips' other solo albums should therefore get this reissue at all costs, especially if they did not like the original album.

Einsetumadur | 4/5 |

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