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THE UNFAIRGROUND

Kevin Ayers

Canterbury Scene


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fuxi
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars After a hiatus of I don't know how many years, Kevin Ayers returned, to the delight of all Canterbury freaks (not to mention those from Whitstable!) with an intriguing, and at times very strong, solo album. THE UNFAIRGROUND was praised to the skies in the music mag MOJO and the remainder of the British press, but as a long-time Ayers fan I cannot help feeling a little disappointed. While I would still urge any Ayers lover to acquire a copy, the album never reaches the celestial heights of WHATEVERSHEBRINGSWESING or THE CONFESSIONS OF DR DREAM.

It's one thing to write songs about old age (an admirable thing; far too many rockers present themselves as perpetual adolescents) but it's another when your voice simply lacks the energy (and fails to reach the high notes) to perform the material with which you're trying to wow the listener! Of the first four tunes on THE UNFAIRGROUND, at least three fail to make much of an impression. On both "Only heaven knows" and "Friends and strangers" Ayers sounds tired and uninspired. Moreover, the tunes themselves merely recycle familiar Ayers ditties from the past. On "Cold Shoulder" Robert Wyatt appears to deliver some rather random background vocals (back in the 1970s, all Ayers-Wyatt duets were heavenly) but, strangely enough, this hardly has any impact.

Fortunately, from the fifth track onwards things start looking up, and the album then remains strong, all the way to the end. "Shine a light" is a charming lovesong, and "Wide awake" an urgent uptempo song (Ayers finally catches fire!) while "Baby come home" is an instant classic: a beguiling duet with the gorgeous Bridget St. John, who last appeared on an Ayers album three decades ago, and who will be familiar to Floyd fans as well. On "Brainstorm" Kevin captures the mood of classic English psychedelia, on "Unfairground" he 'does' a Lou Reed (very convincingly, too!) and "Run, run, run" is yet another catchy pop song with a superb and irresistible chorus.

Make no mistake: Kevin Ayers was always the "pop" element in Soft Machine, and on THE UNFAIRGROUND he reaffirms himself as an elegant balladeer. You simply can't expect sophisticated twenty-minute suites from him anymore. This album provides just six short tracks of truly exceptional quality, but if you care for Kevin and really want to know how he's doing, that's probably sufficient.

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Send comments to fuxi (BETA) | Report this review (#155228)
Posted Wednesday, December 12, 2007 | Review Permalink
3 stars Well, well, well! A brand new K. Ayers album in the year 2007! I have to admit that I am very confused with this artist... Like most people here I guess, I like some of his songs very much, but I m not very fond of all of them. But I find his vocals really great and that is something for sure. This new effort is really something else and to be honest, I didnt expect to like it so much! It can make you feel very good, with a way only Ayers' songs can achieve it... This is not anything special for strict progheads of course. It is pretty good although for everyone who wants to listen some good music at his spare time with his girlfriend or with a glass of wine (or both)! People who also like Bryan Ferry's solo albums will enjoy much this one. 1,5 - 2 stars for prog fans, but 4 stars for good music= 3stars

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Send comments to aegeanwatcher (BETA) | Report this review (#172839)
Posted Monday, June 02, 2008 | Review Permalink
febus
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / In Memoriam
2 stars CAN DO BETTER THAN THAT!!!

So Kevin Ayers is back!! 15 years after his last recording! and what can we expect from Kevin in 2007/08? I know i wasn't expecting a masterpiece after all those years, especially knowing Kevin wasn't even able to pull one during his golden years in the beginning 70s!

But 33mns of music! Damn! damn! 10 songs and that's it! 15 years to produce ''middle of the road'' songs lasting for a grand total of 33mns. Even when vinyl was king, artists tried to produce around 40mns of music. Arrive the digital age and K. Ayers comes up with not even that amount.

One could counter that sometimes this is better having quality over quantity! right if i could compare what's on this CD to golden nuggets....But believe me, this ain't a goldmine!..Not a recording you will live happily with for the rest of your life.

Kevin Ayers brought a lot of ''stars'' to participate to this recording..We have new names that i don't know, Euro-pop they say, i am not familiar with. From the old guard, PHIL MANZANERA of Roxy fame lends his guitar and our ex- Soft Machine bassist invited other ex-Soft Machine members, namely HUGH HOPPER and our dear friend ROBERT WYATT. Sadly, all references to SOFT MACHINE stop here. Nothing to be amazed as Kevin abandonned a long time ago any links to his psychedelic debut with the mighty SOFT.

Don't get me wrong! there is nothing on this album that cannot be said:'' that's bad''..You can to listen to the whole 33mns and you won't get any headaches, only scratching your head when listening to totally unconsequential songs like the opener ONLY HEAVEN KNOWS or the closer RUN RUN RUN ;Boy scouts hymns to sing-along around a campfire!!!!.

Some titles are a little more ''thought'' or ''worked'' like COLD SHOULDER or BRAINSTORM (now this is not Hawkwind) where some arrangements add a little proggish resemblance to what Kevin used to record early 70s, but don't expect LADY RACHEL to show up at your door! She is nowhere in sight. But they are good average typical AYERS tunes.

When i reviewed AYERS from the good old times, i wrote Kevin was a musician of talent, but was more interested in good wine and good food and good company. Nothing wrong with that, but EVERY album of his has suffered from his lackaidisical attitude.....Great songs snadwiched by forgettable ones....remember CARRIBEAN MOON and TAKE ME TO TAHITI, not forgetting the dreadful HAT.

It seems nothing has changed much since the 70s. Kevin lives in the South-West French countryside, enjoying his ''retirement'' and still able to create 33mns of songs in 15 years. I may sound harsh, but it's just i liked the character very much and some of his songs really, really brought me a lot of pleasure. I will never forget SOFT MACHINE one, JOY OF A TOY or the good WHATEVERSHEBRINGSWESING, i still play them regularly but this CD THE UNFAIRGROUND won't be one of them!

On the positive side, i shoud mention that KEVIN didn't lost one step with his voice....still deep, cozy, charming, just the inspiration missing. Not a bad CD as i said, but nothing mesmerizing either! Some pleasant songs but that's not the place for a newcomer to start his AYERS discovery.

I hate to give 2 stars to an artist i like, but somehow you've got to be honest with yourself!

2 STARS.

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Send comments to febus (BETA) | Report this review (#181152)
Posted Saturday, August 30, 2008 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Fair

Following his mainly acoustic release "Still life with guitar" in 1992, Kevin Ayers pretty much retired from recording albums. He made occasional live appearances, and relocated from Spain to France to live, but apart from that he all but vanished.

In 2005, Ayers began to write songs in earnest again, finding an eager audience awaiting further output from him. Some two years later, this album finally appeared. One glance at the artist credits reveals that Ayers was far from alone in his work, with contributors including such noted artists as Robert Wyatt, Hugh Hopper, Phil Manzanera and many more. Members of bands such as Teenage Fanclub, Gorkys Zygotic Mynci and the Trash Can Sinatras also make appearances.

With such an impressive cast list, it is perhaps surprising that the album runs to a mere 34 minutes, the tracks all coming in at between 2 and 4 minutes. As might be assumed, this therefore means that we have another album of pop songs, gentle croons (ballads), and whimsical melodies. Ayers himself describes this as "very much a reflective album: lost love, lost feelings, lost sensibilities". The opening "Only heaven knows" belies this however, being a rather positive number both melodically and lyrically.

The following "Cold shoulder" is the first of the melancholy numbers, featuring the "Wyattron" of Robert Wyatt. "Walk on water" is nicely orchestrated while featuring some of Ayers strongest vocals in many a year.

"Baby please come home" sees Ayers reuniting with Bridget St John for a fine vocal duet. This simply arranged number was released as a single off the album, but in hindsight the upbeat B-side ("Walk on water") may have been the better choice. The low point of the album in my view is the title track. The funky staccato beat alternating with intrusive orchestration comes across as messy and unconvincing. Others may find the track appealing, with its very slight prog leanings, but it is not for me.

Overall, while it took Kevin many years to release this album, he seems to be running on half power here. The songs are pleasant but largely undemanding. The plethora of contributing artists do what is asked of them well, but they are hardly challenged. An album which is enjoyable but for an artist of Ayers ability, we are perhaps looking for more.

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Send comments to Easy Livin (BETA) | Report this review (#760156)
Posted Tuesday, May 29, 2012 | Review Permalink

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