I had to go back and listen to Song X again to clean out the sticky gunk this album...
Nick Reynolds 2007-09-19
Nonesuch’s reissue programme of Pat Metheny’s back catalogue continues. After the tumultuous noise terror of the Song X collaboration with the king of free jazz, Ornette Coleman, now comes a reissue of Secret Story from 1992. You couldn’t ask for a more extreme contrast. Secret Story is as mainstream as jazz gets. In fact it’s muzak, or perhaps ‘easy listening’, although I found it very difficult listening.
The first problem is there’s not much guitar. There’s some tasteful, fluent picking here and there but this never really catches fire. The album is dominated by dated drum machines, keyboards and cheesy synthesizers. The synthesizers pretend to be orchestras. The synthesizers solo away to melodramatic climaxes (“The Longest Summer”). The synthezisers pretend to be pan pipes (“Facing West”). I don’t like the sound of pan pipes in the first place, so to have a keyboard imitating them badly adds insult to injury.
The pan pipes sum up the second problem with Secret Story. Pan pipes are a lazy way of signifying ‘foreign places’ in music. Described as a ‘world music suite’ “Secret Story” removes any of the grit of world music and reduces it to tasteful textures around which those keyboards twitter interminably. This music is so dull that when Toots Thielemans’s harmonica arrives for some pleasant warbling on “Always And Forever” it seems like a sonic thunderbolt.
It’s not all bad. On “Above The Treetops” Metheny’s guitar cleverly duets with a vocal sample from Cambodia. And at the end of 76 minutes the synthesizers calm down and pieces like “Tell Her You Saw Her”, and “Not To Be Forgotten” have a low-key beauty. But listening to the whole thing is like being force-fed seventeen strawberry cheesecakes in one go.
I had to go back and listen to Song X again to clean out the sticky gunk this album left in my ears.