Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn
Album assigned by: Michael Strait
This was completely new to me, but because of Bill’s involvement with Be-bop deluxe (which I still plan to get into, after hearing it’s a mix of glam and prog, with rock overtones), I was very interested. Bill Nelson solo is very different. Upon first listening I thought this to be a mix between Ultravox/Eurythmics (somewhat intelligent synth pop) and David Sylvian (vocal stylings and overall ambitious epicness). As I’d never heard of him before, you can safely assume that he was not extremely successful in the 80’s and / or that this type of music completely passed me by at the time (35 years ago…). After further listening I can confirm both those assumptions AND explain them.
On the one hand, it IS definitely synth pop, not my favourite type of pop music, which in turn is hardly my favourite musical genre. Especially the drum (computer) sound annoys, and his voice has this quality that I always associate with Talking Heads and the Cure: slightly mechanical, trying to communicate as little emotions as possible, apart from depressed nervousness and general anxiety. In some songs his voice jumps an octave mid-sentence (or mid-syllable), also very much of its time. This sort of explained why it escaped my attention upon release.
However, explaining why it never made it big is actually the total opposite: if you allow for the drum sound and the vocals, this is actually highly intelligent music. There are soaring melodies, reaching almost prog rock epicness. There are weird guitar sounds, suggesting mastery of the instrument, there are nice solos over synth ‘vamps’, there are interesting vibes (still synths, I gather), instrumental breaks that (somewhat) take away the poppy element, a few nice instrumentals and most importantly, there is a level of sophistication that completely elevates it from your general synth pop record.
In quite a few ways this album for me resembles David Bowie’s Never Let Me Down (and predates it by five years). Now that’s not Bowie’s best album by a long shot, but Never Let Me Down does what it sets out to do as magnificently as 1. Outside. Same here, I feel. Right at the beginning of one of the worst decades for music, with all the silly fashionable synthesizer sounds, synthetic drums and weird vocal stylings, Bill Nelson produces (out of nowhere, perhaps, I don’t know) a highly entertaining pop record. I think his career deserves to be thoroughly researched…