The stunning return of a prodigal son you never knew existed.
Martin Aston 2012-08-14
Some careers are hard-fought; some are just hard. And some are as lonely as the long-distance runner. Bill Fay’s happens to be all three.
After two distinctly powerful and ignored albums – 1970’s Bill Fay and the following year’s Time of the Last Persecution, whose title alone indicates an already wearying state of mind – Fay went into exodus. Twenty-seven years passed before his reputation was salvaged when both albums were reissued in 1998, with previously unheard material and Wilco’s cover of Fay’s Be Not So Fearful feeding the cult worship.
Arriving 41 years after Fay’s last original studio album, Life Is People represents the return of a prodigal son you never knew existed. Its religious symbolism is inspired by Fay’s own relationship with faith, the result a stunning, profound, moving and soulful record.
Fay’s never preachy, his questioning the kind you might expect from a brilliant mind who, at one point, worked as a factory cleaner. There’s environmental awareness, existential drama and considered advice. If Father Time made an album, it might sound like Life Is People.
Fay’s deep-set voice and the music both rise to the occasion. There’s a string quartet, a gospel choir on Empires and Be at Peace with Yourself, and some judiciously employed guitar (his principal collaborator is Paul Weller sidekick Matt Deighton). The organ/piano foundations sometimes echo Bob Dylan’s wild mercury sound, and can be reminiscent of early Mott the Hoople’s rolling, wistful, valiant feel.
But mostly, Life Is People is just hugely moving. Sad, too, but a comforting Nick Drake-style sad, so you wouldn’t want it any other way. There’s hope as well, even if The Never Ending Happening and The Healing Day undermine their titles with the feeling Fay is writing his epitaph.
This World’s opening line is, “This world’s got me in its grip / ain’t no way can I wriggle out.” Yet Cosmic Concerto (Life Is People) starts out with, “There are miracles in the strangest of places.” One of those miracles is that Fay, after so many years, is again making music.
Another miracle is how brilliant Life Is People is. Redemption time.