David Sylvian Blemish Review

Album. Released 2003.  

BBC Review

Sylvian alone is his most compelling incarnation yet. Prepare to get close...

Chris Jones 2003

It's been a trying time for the former Mr David Batt. Following protracted wranglings with a major label he's finally emerged from the legal jungle with head held high and bearing this, the first of his creative trophies from a plethora of ongoing projects. Described as 'an impromptu suite of songs for guitar, electronics and voice', Blemish is initially only available via the internet, yet those who have longed for some forward motion in Sylvian's career of late would do well to hunt this down immediately.

Mainly improvised solo, excepting three tracks with free jazz guitar icon Derek Bailey and one with electronica guru Christian Fennesz, Blemish is delineated from the rest of David's work to date by two points. Firstly: his singular extemporised recording process has freed him from any previous sense of precious perfectionism. This is a record that burbles, clicks and buzzes with, well, blemishes, and thus seems more approachable than his most recent work. Secondly: the voice, while retaining the sub-Ferry vibrato, is closely mic'ed; intimately double tracked for harmonies; and, most importantly, his lyrics seem remarkably honest.

Whereas previous stabs at profundity often resulted in a scattergun approach (involving dropping as many erudite literary and artistic references into one song as possible), now the subjects seem far less oblique. The title track hints at emotional trouble with the opposite sex. ''The Good Son'' seems almost sarcastic in its approach to familial turmoil, and ''The Heart Knows Better'' wins one over with a frankly simple message of redemption. Most impressively, ''Late Night Shopping'' contains mantra-like intonations seemingly at odds with the mundanity of its subject matter (''We can make a list, or something...''). That is, until you realise the strange sense of agoraphobia that seeps in with the lines: ''We can take the car. No one will be watching...'' It's both creepy and strangely mesmeric.

Sylvian always knew how to pick collaborators as he struggled to break away from his New Romantic origins with Japan. Names like Holger Czukay, Robert Fripp, Marc Ribot and Danny Thompson are just the tip of the iceberg of artists who have allowed his work to escape its crass commercial roots. Yet this time his choice is particularly inspired and, by stripping away most of the hip credentials, Sylvian's forged a work that startles with its originality. Bailey's guitar may often remind you of a roadie falling downstairs, yet it suits this rougher hewn material down to the ground. Most songs revolve around a single chord but never remotely approach the territory marked 'drone', with close attention being repaid by a swarm of insectoidglitches that will endlessly intrigue. Sylvian alone is his most compelling incarnation yet. Prepare to get close...

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