Bill Nelson's Orchestra Arcana: Optimism
A lynchpin in Be-Bop Deluxe, the list of albums that have emanated over the years from Bill Nelson is so long, it verges on ridiculous. Here one of his most celebrated, Optimism, is re-released for fresh appraisal via the ever eclectic Esoteric label.
The year was 1988 and working without label backing, Nelson was experimenting to the max, modern (by the standard of the day) techniques employed to a collection of pieces that don't really qualify under the term 'song', although that was hardly the point. Thumping beats and synth stabs, which immediately take you back to an electronica time long gone by are the order of the day, alongside enigmatic ambient sounds. However what really takes centre stage across a stark and remote meander through 19 different cuts are the 'found voices', as Nelson describes them in the interesting liner notes. Snippets of dialogue taken from radio, television and vintage films painstakingly edited and inserted (quite a task in the mid to late 80s) into the music. Considering the atmospheric and isolated nature of much of what Nelson has created here, the repetitive, clipped words take some of the pieces into almost Vangelis like Bladerunner territory, while the more melodic interjections land somewhere between chart fare, dance floor booming bombast and art rock. However none of the approaches prove particularly engaging and rather than the results being a journey through a selection of tracks which arrest the attention and involve, the end result feels more like one to be admired from a distance and whispered about in reverential tones.
In the end it proves a tiring experience, any "in" quickly stomped out of sight through the uncompromisingly looped nature of less than enthralling execution. There's no denying that the skill, time and effort taken to piece this lengthy album together reaches far beyond impressive and yet to suggest that the album itself is something that stands up to repeat scrutiny, would be a long stretch of the imagination. In truth, it's often a struggle to sit through tracks which feel much longer than their actual length, due to the sheer unrelenting similarity between and within them.
My admiration goes to Bill Nelson for this keenly crafted and concocted collection. However as a listening experience, Optimism leaves you extremely pessimistic.
1. EXACTLY THE WAY YOU WANT IT
2. WHY BE LONELY
3. EVERYDAY IS A BETTER DAY
4. THE RECEIVER AND THE FOUNTAIN PEN
5. WELCOME HOME, MISTER KANE
6. THIS IS TRUE
7. GREETING A NEW DAY
8. THE BREATH IN MY FATHER'S SAXOPHONE
9. OUR LADY OF APPARITIONS
10. THE WHOLE CITY BETWEEN US
11. DEVA DANCE
12. ALWAYS LOOKING FORWARD TO TOMORROW
13. WORLD THRU FAST CAR WINDOW
14. PROFILES, HEARTS, STARS
15. DAUGHTER OF DREAM COME TRUE
17. UM, AH GOOD EVENING
18. KUT UP IN CARTOONSVILLE
19. SHORT WAVE
Added: December 6th 2015
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Optimism at Cherry Red
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