The Anthony Reynolds’ career spanning retrospective has received many favourable reviews. Here’s a selection of the best.
Two-CD retrospective of the gutter glamour genius of poet, author and former Jack front-man Reynolds, designed for “a two-hour car journey along motorways and B-roads.”
Buzz Magazine *****
The 30 tracks on this double CD showcase literate Cardiff native Reynolds’ work since 1995 and features songs from his band Jack and Jacques, plus Reynolds as a solo artist. It includes the previously unreleased Lolita Elle and Maybe My Love Doesn’t Answer Anything In You Anymore (both recorded live in Paris) and the title track. The singer/poet/writer’s heavily Cohen-influenced music sounds as fresh now as it did back in the mid-90’s; this compilation is a must-buy for any reynolds fan.
Record Collector ***
In the mid-90s, Anthony Reynolds fronted the band Jack and, later Jacques: both vehicles for his acerbic, gothic and usually chemically-altered missives, detailing the same kind of debauchery as Brett Anderson or
Luke Haines. But, just like Suede and The Auteurs, he never flirted with the themes or successes of Britpop. This best of, featuring plenty more Reynolds incarnations besides, can surely only be of interest to the most hardcore indie archaeologists, right?
Well, yes and no. The first disc sounds the most dated, but is also the more epic. Reynolds’ lyrics range from the nihilistic to the often hilariously mundane (the chorus of Yuka’s Life screams “Fax me!”). The production is sturdy, with Momus’ aural signatures often cropping up (he produced and collaborated). Disc Two brings texture. Blue Party, from Jacques’ 2000 album To Stars, is a rippling Kinksy delicacy, while B-side Beauty And Me finds vocal samples and drum loops adding further depth.
Anthony Reynolds has a devoted if small fanbase, but is perhaps faced with the problem of how to grow it. Certainly Life’s Too Long will help if somehow stumbled across but, from the cover and title of this compilation alone, you suspect the man himself might not actually care.
Norman Records ****
To be quite honest I’ve never really put a lot of time into Anthony Reynolds’s previous work as a solo artist or with former bands Jack and Jacques, so the prospect of reviewing this mammoth 30-song anthology compiling 16 years’ worth of material from the prolific Welsh singer-songwriter is a bit of a daunting one. On the bright side, though, it’s actually really good and leaves me quite surprised I’ve not given him more time previously. On here he’s effortlessly knocking out sweeping, cinematic indie pop with his rich, deep vocal delivery sounding totally comfortable and unforced. The integration of classical instruments sometimes reminds me of Luke Haines’s work, but without the snide, sneering cynicism that so divides people on Haines (I’m fiercely in the pro camp myself though). It’s quite theatrical and melodramatic and some of these songs really wouldn’t seem out of place in a stage musical, but with his smooth voice and some nice lyrical turns of phrase the quality is pretty consistent, so if that’s your kind of thing then I’d imagine this’ll really float your boat. Sample lyric: “Let’s take the pills from the shelf and slowly feed them to each other until there are none left.” Over the course of these two CDs it really paints the picture of a tortured poet stuck between being an indie rocker and a diva and landing somewhere between Divine Comedy and Vic Chesnutt. Affecting stuff.
The song ‘Cinematic’ name-checks Cocteau, Picasso and Warhol in the first lines before confessing, “I was never there, I only read the book, I only saw the film, I only dreamed the dream… until you and me”. So there, in, like, verse one, you’ve got high art, a dip into wilful bathos, and then a giddy swoop back up to lofty romance. It’s clever and it’s heart-felt and it’s a ride. Such winning melodrama resides in most of Cardiff-based Anthony Reynolds’ songs: they stand out, alone, above. They’re like giraffes in a world of grubs.
Jack – his alma mater – were one of Britain’s most underrated bands in the mid-to-late 90s. Usually compared to The Bad Seeds or Tindersticks (basically because they weren’t strangers to suit-jackets and violins), they had swagger and poise. Despite glowing reviews and a support tour with Suede they never quite caught on: too inclined towards the romantic and artistic, perhaps, for the pragmatic, Blair-ite era, where to be a lad was considered commendable. As Blur’s Mockney mannerisms and Oasis’ salt-of-the-earth blokery flourished, they were deemed too European, too well-read, ambitious, strange. Not indie-spindly enough. It was evident on all their records that they wanted to be musically huge while meaning something, and of course England loathes those who don’t pretend to have their feet planted firmly on the ground.
As former Jack vocalist Reynolds releases his vast, thirty-track Best Of double album, that band’s songs included still resound and roar with wit, wordplay and the wonderful arrangements of chief musician Matthew Scott. Selections from their albums Pioneer Soundtracks, The Jazz Age and (the ‘difficult’ farewell album of 2002) The End Of The Way It’s Always Been pine and prickle with fire and yearning. At their best, Jack combined the cerebral and the physical to a thrilling degree. The adrenalin of ‘Wintercomessummer’, the sexual charge of ‘White Jazz’ (for me, their pinnacle) and the love-under-a-microscope passion of ‘My World Versus Your World’ are several cuts above most game blowhards of the era and, were they to emanate from a new band today, would be eulogised to the skies. ‘Yuka’s Life’, too, is a beautiful thing. (‘Steaming’ and ‘Nico’s Children’ are sadly absent). It’s a pity that final ‘experimental’ album remains relatively overlooked here (though there’s a lovely live version (Paris, 2002) of ‘Maybe My Love Doesn’t Answer Anything In You Anymore’), but hunt it down for yourself and marvel at its fusion of clarity and confusion: the human condition.
Since the band’s demise, Reynolds has carved a niche for himself as one of Britain’s most undervalued singers and has been known to put on theatre tributes to everyone from Sigmund Freud to himself. Get past the comical-lovable levels of narcissism (one wonders if this package really needs over a dozen pictures of its author more than it needs a lyric sheet) and the work shines. Whether collaborating with Momus or the reclusive writer Colin Wilson (in a summit meeting of cult outsiders), he never knowingly shoots for less than galaxies. The songs continue to glorify and romanticise underdogs, losers, self-pity and, in one of his best solo works, from his very fine true-return-to-form 2007 album British Ballads, ‘The Disappointed’. Influenced by the literature of Bukowski and the Fantes, by Bowie and Sylvian, and by the artists he’s in recent years written well-received biographies about – Leonard Cohen, The Walker Brothers, Jeff Buckley – his gigantic voice reaches, against all odds, the epic quality for which the arrangements strain. There may be too many overblown funereal ballads on the second disc here, but ‘Io Bevo (I Drink)’ (co-written and produced by Gianluca Maria Sorace) flares with mischief (“I used to be somebody…I drink because God is dead”) and insight. Its opening couplet bears comparison with any you could name: “I drink because Keith Richards does and Madonna don’t, but should / I drink not to forget but to recall my childhood”. ‘Winterpollen’ (co-written and produced by Richard Bell, once – full disclosure – of my old 90s duo Scalaland) takes a subtler, David Gates/Bread direction. Cuts from the album Neu York show a Kraut-Kunst road half-travelled. Everywhere, there’s a refusal to settle for the mundane, the OK, the quite good. It’s all or nothing, or nothing. Little wonder the rest of Europe – artier, sexier – embraces this artist with more warmth than bad-in-bed Blighty does. At his own cost, Reynolds has always been impractically blind to the expedient benefits of fitting in, of downsizing to deliver, rubbing along with mediocrity, displaying false modesty, kowtowing to the herd-mentality. We have here a bona-fide provocateur, a gamer Gainsbourg, a Welsh Aznavour, a cut-price Cale, and would do well to realise it. Fortunately life is long – an arduous, unforgiving, distressing trek through heartache, frustration, the crushing of dreams and existential angst, as these louche, literate songs testify – so it’s never too late.
Anthony Reynolds really should be a household name such is the consistantly high quality of his recorded output over the last sixteen years, but in keeping with a clutch of other criminally overlooked British songwriters including Roger Quigley (Quigley, At Swim Two Birds, the Montgolfier Brothers), Simon Rivers (The Last Party, the Bitter Springs) and Davey Woodward (The Brilliant Corners, Experimental Pop Band) he, despite one or two skirmishes with the limelight, remains a relatively unmined seam.
The biggest clues to the sound and style of his music lie in the shape of the three published biographies he has written about the Walker Brothers, Jeff Buckley and Leonard Cohen respectively. It is no exaggeration to say that he is worthy of mentioning in the same breath of any of the aforementioned artists.
This compilation opens the lid on every area of his recorded career that has seen him release music under a string of monikers – Jack, Jacques and Anthony before finally settling on his own. Such is the volume of music available to choose from (Reynolds has released seven albums and countless EPs and singles) it must have been difficult to whittle things down to just thirty tracks, as even a sixty track retrospective would still have left a few gems off the final set list.
To assist the casual listener the tracks are roughly in chronological order starting with 4 Jack songs from the ‘Pioneer Soundtracks’ album that launched Reynolds career. They still sound fresh today with ‘Wintercomessummer’ in particular being a joy to hear again – I saw Jack play live back in 1995 when they had only released a couple of singles and have followed Reynolds career ever since.
The songs from the follow-up LP ‘The Jazz Age’ including the timeless ‘Cinematic’ are great tracks as are the trio of Jacques numbers that make up the first disc of this set.
The more dance-orientated songs from Jack third LP, ‘The End of the Way It Has Always Been’ that was released on the cool Les Disques Du Crepuscule record label feature heavily on the second disc along with a collection of more recent songs such as the truly stunning ‘The Disappointed’ from the 2007 ‘British Ballads’ LP. A couple of live tracks including the beautiful ‘Lolita Elle’ originally released on ‘The Jazz Age’ are also here to make this a brilliant introduction to potential new fans or a timely reminder to the enlightened as to the immense talent Anthony Reynolds is.
OMH Music ****
Back in 2000 an album called To Stars, by a band named Jacques, showed off Anthony Reynolds’ Welsh croon of a voice slipping and sliding in a mixture of songs both upbeat and despairing. Blue Party and London Loves You, two of the best tracks from that album, perfectly represent the shabby-chic glory of the band’s sound and make for a pleasing in-road to Life Is Too Long: Songs 1995-2011, Reynolds’ double-disc career collection.
Reynolds has had many incarnations and almost as many record labels over the span of this retrospective, kicking off with the extraordinary Pioneer Soundtracks from the band Jack, with Reynolds and Matthew Scott at its core. Originally released in 1996 to great acclaim and then re-released in 2007 with additional tracks, it’s one of those albums that never grow stale. Rocking beats and poetic lyrics about love, death and drinking carry you with them, and inspired orchestration – with masses of judiciously used strings – creates an unforgettable sound. Filthy Names is as lush as it comes, in every sense – the voice at its best, the orchestration plaintive and beguiling. Biography Of A First Son rollicks along and White Jazz and Wintercomessummer play with sound and atmosphere.
The Jazz Age followed in 1998 with the incomparable song of lost love, 3 O’Clock In The Morning, the fun, name-dropping Cinematic that chronicles Reynolds’ love of literature (Charles Bukowski and John Fante are constant muses), the visual arts, and in particular European film-makers. These songs are never ordinary, and usually stuffed full of cultural references, some more obscure than others.
Things fell apart a bit after the end of his collaboration with Matthew Scott and the split from Too Pure, but there have been some memorable moments since, often on minor labels and very frequently released as EPs, so this collection is a real treasure chest bringing them together. From The End Of The Way It’s Always Been (2002) we have The Emperor Of New London, with the unforgettable voiceover by Dan Fante, son of John “ “I’m so fucking high death wouldn’t dare interrupt me now” – and Sleepin’ Makes Me Thirsty, a splendid lament to lost youth. The romantic If July Were A Kingdom is from Neu York (2004), the stately magnificence of The Disappointed from British Ballads (2007).
Reynolds’ experimental side is represented by Life Is All There Is, with the voice of the British philosopher and novelist Colin Wilson, and the sweet, early track Whilst High I Had This Premonition also makes the cut. There are a couple of terrific live versions from 2002 (Lolita Elle, Maybe My Love Doesn’t Answer Anything In You Anymore), and rarities such as Beauty And Me, from one of the many EPs. And the final, and title, track is a new song that returns to the glorious, romantic melancholy that is the hallmark of this complex, talented and sometimes infuriatingly self-destructive artist.
A treat for Reynolds’ hardcore fans, and a brilliant introduction for those who have yet to be sucked into this poetic and complex world, Life Is Too Long: Songs 1995-2011 makes the case for Reynolds’ poetic canon of work as one replete with many an underappreciated gem.
Les fans d’Anthony Reynolds le savent. L’ex-leader de Jack, groupe de pop anglais qui connut son heure de gloire dans les années 90, n’a jamais réellsement quitté l’actualité musicale.
Pourtant, sa carrière faite de hauts (petite célébrité pendant la période Jack) et de bas (pas mal d’errances ensuite, un désert qui est passé par la campagne anglaise et le soleil espagnol) n’a jamais réellement été interompu et de collaborations en rééditions, en passant par deux albums solo et l’écriture de quelques biographies (notamment sur les Walker Brothers et sur Léonard Cohen), le Gallois se retrouve aujourd’hui à sortir (enfin) une compilation de son travail de 1995 à 2011, intitulée de façon très optimiste Life’s too long.
Ce double album, avec un très joli livret (préférez la version disque à la version numérique donc) est avant tout un disque d’amour. Dédié à sa compagne Cathy dont le portrait orne par ailleurs la pochette de Kingdom Of Me, EP tiré de cette compilation, ce disque est avant tout une sorte d’hommage, de présent amoureux de Reynolds à celle qui partage ses jours lui offrant le meilleur de ce qu’elle aime, parmi ses très nombreuses compositions.
Excellente occasion pour nous de retrouver ou découvrir 30 morceaux remis légèrement au goût du jour. Il y a de tout sur cet album : de vieux titres incontournables, des morceaux plus récents, des ballades, des chansons plus énergiques, anecdotiques ou indispensables.
Les quelques incontournables sont là comme “White jazz” mais manque tout de même “Nico’s children” ou des choses plus triviales comme “I love my radio on” que l’on trouvait sur l’album solo d’Anthony.
Les British Ballads, autre disque solo sorti sous son nom complet, sont également de la partie. Tout comme le très beau “Filthy names” et beaucoup de compositions de l’époque Jack/Jacques. Une pop aussi énergique que mélancolique. Autre pièce maitresse de cette compilation, “Io bevo“, magnifique et poignante” ballade” inspirée par une chanson d’Aznavour et co-écrite avec Gianluca Maria Sorace du groupe italien Hollowblue.
Au total, 30 titres pour faire un tour d’horizon assez complet du bonhomme et à la fois faire patienter et donner envie d’une suite à cette déjà jolie carrière à la frontière du crooner, du dandy pop et de la folk. So british.