Alan Reed’s enthralling second album takes a little while for the uncomfortably menacing significance of its title to make itself felt and understood. Fiercely passionate and enticingly absorbing, the experience it delivers is brutally uncompromising. Much like the iron fist in the velvet glove, the mental image it deliberately conjures evokes a seductively alluring, almost addictive sense of attraction mixed with a disquieting promise of sure and certain discomfort.
The pull exerted by this mesmerising and menacing fatal attraction is buried at the very heart of what this fascinating and striking album is all about. This is no simple tale of beauty and the beast; rather, Reed’s incisive song-writing unmasks beauty as being inseparable from the beast, the craving of satisfaction in tasting the enticing sweetness of the honey inevitably met by the rasping steely pain which assuredly follows, as the warm bitter taste of blood washes it away on a pulsating tide of painful, knowing regret.
The vibrancy of the music itself forms the enticing honey pot which draws you in, captivating, exciting and bristling with energy. The acoustic textures which created the unmistakable feel and sweep of the first album give way to a precise, gritty focus through compelling and powerful guitar work which is in turn enhanced and strengthened by expansive, cascading layers of keyboards. A driving, exuberant momentum is supplied by some magnificent drumming which effortlessly underpins some of the songs with a determined purpose and thrust.
The net result is a tightly structured and highly expressive album which sparkles with intense musical vision and no small degree of finesse. There is fire, passion and even exhilaration in the playing which makes this a frequently arresting listening experience; time and again the strength and flow of the music causes you to stop whatever you are doing and concentrate intently on whatever has surfaced to catch your attention.
Yet make no mistake about it, there is cold, sharp steel lurking beneath this appealing musical facade. This is music with a mission, finely attuned to the concerns, worries and frustrations of life in the 21st century. Reed pulls no punches in crafting precise lyrical sketches which are mercilessly honest and unflinchingly direct. Having successfully seduced us and lured us in, the writing which adorns the razors edge lies waiting to deliver its stringent payload.
Learning to love humanity is not an easy thing to do. For all the beauty we create, the love we show, the creative heights to which we aspire, there is always buried within it brutal ugliness, vicious hatred and tormenting depravity. The electrifying Cross My Palm (Track 3) is a delicious ode to sleaze, corruption and the media culture of ‘dirty deals done cheap’ – though Reed is quite clear that the ultimate price we pay in terms of the stain on our souls is far from that.
Razor (Track 2) is a ferocious onslaught about the baggage we carry with us and, more often than not, acts as a millstone around our necks, dragging us down, filling our lives with a hopeless despair. The poisonous world of The Covenanter (Track 6) is a baleful commentary on the wounding implications of religious extremism. Reed does not pull back in staring the exasperating gamut of human complexity squarely in the face. Our imperfections, frailties, weaknesses are on display for all to clearly see.
Even when we are treated to moments of tenderness, the cutting edge buried within is never far from the surface. The beautiful Leaving (Track 4) gives glimpses of loneliness, isolation and the way we appear to others when not in the comfort and presence of those we love and with whom we feel at ease. The absolutely heartbreaking Used To Be Someone (Track 7) – for me the standout track of the album – is emotionally wrenching in capturing the feeling of becoming so remote and removed from someone with whom you were once so close that they look at you as if you are a stranger.
There is no escape from Reed’s baited trap. The quality of the music and the writing is such that resistance to its melodic charms quickly becomes futile. Once immersed, however, the full impact of what lies covered and concealed beneath is not slow to make itself known and felt. This is a riveting and consuming album, briskly fresh, thoughtfully feisty and full of disturbing charm.
Go on. I dare you. Have a listen. Taste the honey. And then brace yourself for everything that follows.
My Sunlit Room (4.08)
Cross My Palm (5.47)
The Other Side of Morning (8.52)
The Covenanter (4.53)
Used To Be Someone (6.02)
Northern Light (4.06)
Alan Reed – guitars, bass, bass pedals, drum programming
Christina Booth – vocals
Laetitia Chaudemanche – vocals
Jeff Green – guitar
Steve Hackett – harmonica
Scott Higham – drums
Claude Leonetti – leode
Mike Stobbie – keys
Monique Van Der Kolk – vocals
Label: White Knight Records
14th March 2017
Format: CD, Digital download
This review originally appeared for The Progressive Aspect