Single Review: Simon Scardanelli – “The Glittering Prize”

Simon Scardanelli – The Glittering Prize

image courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

Single Review of Simon Scardanelli: “The Glittering Prize”

It’s no secret we widely appreciate Simon Scardanelli‘s songwriting and performance skills here at the Blog. Well, this single, “The Glittering Prize,” ranks among my favorites.

The song opens with a whimsical, carnival-style noodling, and this sort of offbeat flavor extends throughout, keeping the listener a little off-balance, a frequently used stylistic element on some of Simon’s songs.

Paul Walker’s clarinet playing is frequently used to advance the story forward and/or transition between song parts, often moving the song in and out of the chorus.

Seeming to be a story about pursuit of “the glittering prize,” it’s up to the listener to decide whether this fun song is insightful or not, but the song itself forewarns: “If you want it here’s a word to the wise, don’t believe a thing I say. I’m full of contradictions and contrapuntal points of view, and every clever song you thought that I wrote is just a load of words on play. Look at me now, still rhyming them with you.” So seek insight herein at your own risk.

Regardless of context, musically “The Glittering Prize” is a fun addition to any playlist, either to march along with and dance to in the summer sun – Simon’s website dubs the song his “new summer single,” – or to hold onto the summer as the weather turns cold. (It took me so long to write this review, that’s pretty much your only choice right now, anyway.)

Looking Ahead

Though there are no future performances listed at the moment, the “Shows” page of Simon’s website is where you’ll find upcoming gigs, as they’re scheduled.

Single Review: Amy Kakoura & Simon Scardanelli – “Only With the Heart”

Amy Kakoura & Simon Scardanelli - Only With the Heart

image courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

Single Review of Amy Kakoura & Simon Scardanelli: “Only With the Heart”

Amy Kakoura‘s rich, warm vocals are both powerful and delicate. Hers is the voice around which this duet revolves. She’s joined by Simon Scardanelli, whose classic, unique, quirky pop rock vocal delivery adds character to the tune. Simon’s voice is instantly identifiable, off-kilter but comfortably familiar in pop and rock realms, while Amy’s is more room-filling and theatrical. As a duo, Amy and Simon produce a memorable combination on “Only With the Heart.”

The song’s softness is driven home by the strings, while its power rises and falls like an ocean’s waves. Finally, it employs one of my favorite song tricks, seeming to end then returning for another powerful minute before finally fading away. “Only With the Heart” is an uplifting song well-conceived to play that role on a soft-touch playlist, likely also suited to a self-encouragement song collection.

Looking Ahead (and Back): Simon Scardanelli

You’ve seen us review Simon repeatedly herein – initially my review of his Dr Scardo release Dog Dark Days on Day Two of the Blog‘s existance as item number three of my “Road Back to Music Journalism” series; most recently RST’s review last summer of his single “It Really Is a Pity.” Before RST’s review, back in April 2020, Simon released “God Gave You Such a Winning Smile,” an edgy, jangling, thoughtful rock anthem I had intended to review, time-permitting, though my backlog was long and growing at the time. Definitely worth a listen, too.

You may occasionally find Simon performing live by checking the “Events” tab of his Facebook page. And, proving that lockdown time isn’t always wasted time, when I checked Simon’s page I noticed a link to this trailer for The Little Prince – A Musical, a new musical adaptation by Sam Chittenden and Simon Scardanelli. Simon’s always creating; always worth keeping an eye on.

Looking Ahead: Amy Kakoura

Though the calendar is empty now, check the “Dates” tab of Amy’s website to find out about future performances. You can also keep up with her on Twitter. And you’ll find a short clip of Amy singing on the Little Prince trailer mentioned in the last paragraph above.

Single Review: Simon Scardanelli – “It Really Is a Pity”

Simon Scardanelli

photo courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

by RST, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Simon Scardanelli: “It Really Is a Pity”

Genre-defying, retro-futuristic, or just plain anar-chronistic, “It Really Is a Pity” is a surprising and entrancing new release from Simon Scardanelli which takes the listener on a voyage to a mysterious point in spacetime. Simon’s early influences of Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, and Vangelis glimmer through the track as he continues to play with the inexhaustible human fascination for machine-made synth sounds. As a comment on the state of humanity, it remains true to Simon’s consistent message throughout his catalogue – we might not quite be on the right path.

Simon Scardanelli - It Really is a Pity single cover

image courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

The track starts in an eerie, empty place, with a lone alien machine voice broadcasting, somehow emotively, the pitiful state of affairs.  Imagine Daleks, but sensitive, and vulnerable. A constellation of strange, familiar, and beautiful sounds create an enthralling dimensionality for the track, and the listener can’t help but groove in assent while they’re being judged. Despite the verdict, this song is neither bitter nor angry, but instead presents a possible perception of our reality with clarity and understatement. The song pays off, and as the aliens announce their necessary departure (probably something to do with the “dangerous mad men in charge”) the drop will have you dancing to your own damnation, and wishing these aliens well as they get out of Dodge. Can I come with?

[Editor’s Note: The reviewer is Simon’s daughter, but that I love what she wrote and agree completely with her assessment of his music and this single. -GW]

Upcoming Events

You can find Simon’s upcoming performances via his Songkick listings. It currently lists a single upcoming show, Friday, August 14th at Café de la Forge in Guillac, France.

Album Review: Simon Scardanelli – The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Simon Scardanelli: The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide

Simon Scardanelli has a new album release on September 6th. The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide is a mature and contemplative listen. Simon takes on the mantle of the balladeer, a storytelling troubadour, regaling us with intriguing tales of high seas and adventure, darkness and human frailty, global catastrophe and personal doubt.

This is a carefully considered body of work. Acoustically styled, guitar picked songs with a sparse balance of additional instruments. The occasional use of violin, cello, recorders, and cumbus, round out each song perfectly.

There is a dark theme of human fragility through the album; it’s like a bleak but majestic windswept moor, or like standing on a wild cliff edge gazing over a brooding misty sea. You listen with suspense, transported by the haunting stories within each song. The narrative of his songs is something Simon has always taken great care with, and the poetry, imagination, and imagery that shines through this album shows how much enjoyment he had in writing them.

The album opens with “The Ballad of Jago Trelawney,” the story of a Cornish tin miner summoned into navy service for his country, which ends in a tragic sea battle. Based around a fictional character, the events it describes are from an actual battle that took place in 1793 between the ships English Nymph and the French Cleopatra. It’s from the chorus of this song that the album takes its name.

The album is full of imagined and real-life experiences that Simon has woven into an intriguing and rewarding musical landscape. The perils and mysteries of the ocean continue in the unfolding tales “The Cold Green Sea” and “Pearly Diving Sea,” leading to the only instrumental in this collection. “Becalmed” provides a moment to reflect before the wind once again whips us on to the lightly picked and beautifully haunting “Different.”

The next track is the most personal and introspective song on the album. “Patience” steps away, for a moment, from the more enigmatic storytelling and provides a more direct insight into the writer’s own creative world and, dare I say, insecurities.

Next up is “Human Nature – the Cry.” “Human Nature” was the first single from the album and is a clear warning of the climate change disaster that threatens the planet we live on and the arrogant disregard a particular world leader pays to the threat. It’s a spartan and compelling listen. Complexity disguised with chameleon simplicity with a depth of thought behind every carefully chosen word and guitar phrase.

More human vulnerability and oracular observation are brought forth in “A Simple Case of Time” and “Star City,” which has quirkier feel but remains moodily within the album’s sense of positive desolation.

Before we reach the album’s conclusion, Simon sings touchingly and illustratively on “Requiem for the City of New York,” which is a reflective backward glance at a city he once lived in.

Finally, there is an alternate version of “Human Nature – the Lament.” It is less strident and angry than the single version. It’s sadder and more resigned, and this presents the song in a very different light, which provides a fitting end to this thought-provoking album.

Once again Simon has produced an album uncompromisingly his own. Different from all that has come before and no doubt from what he will do next. This is no fashion-following attempt to please anyone but himself. As he sings in the song “Patience,” “Jumping on a bandwagon seems to be the next big thing.” Never so for Simon Scardanelli, and in following his heart, he has made an album of bleak majesty which pulls its listener deep under crashing waves to the ethereal realm that lies beneath their cacophony. A place of quiet solemnity, where you have space to ponder and unravel these modern folk chronicles as they are spun out before you in sparse but richly delivered song.

You can read more of what Simon had to say about his new album in a recent interview I did with him here.

Keep up-to-date with his news and live shows through his website or on social media: Twitter: @scardo; Facebook: @SimonScardanelliMusic.

Interview with Simon Scardanelli

Simon Scardanelli

photo courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

An insightful interview with the highly creative and much undervalued singer and songwriter Simon Scardanelli

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Singer and guitarist Simon Scardanelli has released many creatively successful albums, singles, and EPs since his initial chart success in the late ’80s with the duo Big Bam Boo. Following the U.S. top 40 hit “Shooting From My Heart” in 1989, Simon relocated from London to New York where he lived, worked and recorded for a few years in the underbelly of New York’s Lower East Side. His darkly challenging album Death Row Tales in 1994 bears testament to that dark and dangerous lifestyle. Since then he released 4 albums and 3 EPs, all embracing different aspects and genres of his musical passion.

Now spending most of his time living in France, he has spent the past few months busily making a new album, his first in three years. The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide will be released in September, and I tracked him down to his bespoke studio tucked away in beautiful Brittany in France where he kindly agreed to answer a few questions about it.

Q. Your last album, Make Us Happy, was released three years ago in 2016. Have you spent that time writing new material with the goal of making an album, or do you sit down and write the album once you have decided to make one?

Simon: The plan was to record and release a follow-up much sooner, but building the studio here in Brittany took much longer than expected. It was quite frustrating to be in this beautifully inspiring area but have no way to record, until I’d got my hands really dirty and finished the studio. I was writing all this time – I do tend to be always writing, or at least sketching and laying down ideas on my iPad or phone, but I was itching to get into the studio and record them. The studio was completed in October 2018, and I started work on the album I guess around November.

Q. How many songs would you typically write whilst making a new album and do you find yourself being very critical of what you write, to the extent that maybe there are songs you recorded that you have left off?

Simon: What tends to happen is I have a lot (tens, probably more) of basic sketches, some more complete than others. Then a few will start to emerge as definite contenders. Around these I’ll start to form an idea for the overall shape of an album. The album started out with the title Wood Amongst the Trees, but I’d already sketched the title The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide as a possible song title in a separate thread of my sketches, intending that for a different album. Then as the songs started to emerge I realised the themes were pushing me towards The Rock, the Sea, the Rising Tide, so I shelved the Wood album ideas and started to look for the rest of the songs for this album. Yes, I’m super-critical of what I write! Much gets thrown away – or at least stored in folders called “song ideas” by year, such that I have countless possibilities to go back over, which I do from time to time. Occasionally I’ll dig into these archives and pull something out that I complete. My last single, “Human Nature,” was one of these that had been sitting on file for at least a year or more – not lyrically, just the guitar shapes and song melody. As to leaving off songs that are completed: not often really, as I find the process of completing the song in the first place pretty well determines whether it’s going to make the album. So if a song is not coming up to scratch, it doesn’t get finished. At that point I should throw it away… but it ends up in an “ideas” folder anyway. There was one complete song that didn’t make this album, though it was intended to be included – when I came to sequence the songs, I simply couldn’t fit this in. Thematically it was wrong. It’s a song called “Mary’s Home,” about a woman I met when I was in my 20s who’d spent most of her adult life in an asylum, and was child-like at 45, working as a cleaner in a cafe I worked in briefly. When all the songs were completed this one really didn’t fit. Not sure if I’ll release it or put it on another album. We’ll see. Also the single “Without You,” from the end of 2018, was originally meant to be on this album, but that was from the Wood Amongst the Trees mindset, and again, I didn’t really feel it belonged on this album. I’ve been playing it a lot live and actually want to re-record it as there’s a tiny error in the middle 8 lyric that bugs me, and I think it’s benefited (as most songs do) from being performed a lot. So it may end up on an album called Wood Amongst the Trees, or I may scrap that concept altogether and include this on a different album. There’s also the possibility that I re-record it with musicians in a different style; I never know…

Simon Scardanelli

photo courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

Q. After recording the songs how much do you have to listen and live with the tracks until you’re finally happy to release them, and do you ever listen back to your old albums and enjoy them, or do you hear all the things you wish, in hindsight, you had done to them?

Simon: Oh blimey that’s a can of worms! For this album I was trying to keep everything very live and spontaneous. I didn’t want a big production – Make Us Happy wasn’t a “big” production, but it had different forces and was definitely a project that took some serious mixing and editing, arranging etc. Most of that album had percussionist Javier Forero playing cajón, so I recorded that first with a guide, sometimes final, acoustic guitar part, then built everything around that. So violins, saxophone, clarinet, accordion, etc. were all added one by one, and that meant I could do several takes of each instrument, then compile the best takes. It also meant that I could really take time getting the vocal takes I wanted. The new album, however, I recorded mostly in one takes – vocal and guitar together. And this ended up giving me a completely different set of problems, ones that ended up being every bit as challenging as the multi-track approach. So my original idea, to quickly lay down an acoustic one-take album, went out of the window very quickly! I had to make some serious compromises. Firstly, I was playing every song finger style, something I’d been drawn back to these past couple of years – I studied classical guitar in the ’80s but hadn’t used finger style much in the intervening years. Now playing finger style and singing at the same time is – for me, at least – not as comfortable as plectrum playing. Or, at least, I had to re-learn how to do this. So as I was writing I was also exploring techniques – “Human Nature – the Cry,” for example, is an arpeggio (p.i.m.a. for those who play classical; I’ve written the score and it is available!) played throughout the entire song, and a couple of the shapes are a bit tricky to manage – and my engineering and producer head shouted at me whenever I misplayed or crashed a finger on a string, or let the wrong string ring, etc., etc. So I had ongoing battles between perfection and performance at every take. On top of that, when you’re doing loads of takes to try and get the playing exactly right and perfectly in time – can’t click-track this kind of thing – there’s often an engineering problem; you move a few inches to the left and go off mic, or the guitar develops a buzz (this happened to my lovely Furch, un-beknown to me the under-floor heating that I thought was so clever to install in the control room dried out the Furch sitting on a floor stand…) Add to that the necessity to get a great vocal at the same time and – well, it was to say the least a very frustrating process. In fact “Human Nature – the Cry” led to bleeding fingers on my right hand as I played the arpeggio over and over for three days to get it right… ah, so that’s why classical guitars have nylon strings!

So listen and live with the tracks? Yes, and try not to be so OCD about sound quality or timing issues or mis-fingerings, etc. The song “Different” caused me real heartache! So the original almost-demo version I laid down was in my view the best I’d ever sung it. The falsetto voice in the choruses had exactly the fragility I wanted. But some of the verses weren’t great. For a couple of weeks I’d record another version and then leave it a day or two to compare. Always came back to the very flawed first take. But I knew I simply couldn’t get away with it. So eventually managed to re-record a version I was happy with – performance-wise – only to find that the final chorus was really distorted on the guitar mic. The guitar part throughout is very delicate, and I’d obviously set the input level to suit that. But with no possibility to adjust it when I got to the end (the perils of working solo), there was a very limited amount of headroom to play with, and I crashed through that. In the end I had to live with it.

I don’t tend to listen to old albums, though when I do hear tracks I’m usually just about OK with the result from that distance, with the exception of the Dr. Scardo album Dark Dog Days; I hate the sound of that album. I was working in a leased studio (before I built my studio in the back garden) that had the worst control room ever, and I tried to compensate for so much, ended up over-compressing and distorting much of the album. I keep saying I’ll re-mix and master it, but it’s such a big job I probably won’t; I tend to want to move forward always and not dwell on past recordings.

Q. You write, record, and produce your music in your own custom studio. Do you like the autonomy of working this way, or would you like to work with a producer who would take some of the creative decisions for you? I think I am right to say that the last time you were produced by someone else was back in your Big Bam Boo days (for the uninitiated, check out the 1989 album Fun Faith and Fairplay),although you did have others working with you on the recording, mix and mastering of your acoustic album Hobohemia in 2005.

Simon: Well, I’d absolutely love to have a producer or an engineer work with me! But the reality of being an independent self-releasing artist is that there is simply no money for that. In the “old days,” signed to a label, a well-rehearsed band could put an album together in weeks with the right team. And certainly sharing some of the creative decision-making would take the album in different ways and could be rewarding. However, I do like the autonomy, of course. I’m not trying to either “get a deal” – or compete with anyone with my artistic output. So I’ve no “sound” to mimic or achieve in order to satisfy some vague industry trend or standard. In fact, I think music has become so commodified and coded that as an independent artist I feel an obligation to do exactly what I want, even to the point of it not appealing to mass media. I’ve learned to make records (let’s call them that – they are a record, a document of artistic statement of a particular time, not a product to be foisted upon a gullible public!) that satisfy, or at least attempt to satisfy, my artistic development. The popular song format has been around a very long time, and my duty as an artist is to try and stretch it, build upon the format, just a little. Not revolutionary, just evolutionary. Trying to dig into the genre and dig into my inner musician to see if I can add something to the cannon.

Hobohemia was interesting in the making in that I hadn’t recorded for many, many years. In fact, I was rather out of voice at the time and had only just started playing live again. So whilst I had an engineer at the studio, it was pretty well straight takes. I called in my friend Richard Mainwaring (producer of the first Big Bam Boo album, with a very fine set of ears!) to help me master it in my then-damp, dark studio basement, and that was really helpful. However, going back to your earlier question, I cannot listen to that album at all! For me the voice is strained and restricted. I was an emotional wreck at the time, going through divorce, becoming a single parent, etc., and it shows. When asked at gigs which album they should buy, I tend to steer people away from that one, even though my attic has plenty of stock that I should be shifting! I always feel that they may be disappointed by it, having seen me live currently. But then again, plenty who do buy it tell me they love it so… what does the artist know? Nothing!

Q. Your new album is an acoustic, solo affair. This is only the second time you have made a whole album like that. As I mentioned, Hobohemia was your previous acoustic album, and it includes one of your most popular songs “Fish Out Of Water.” Did that have any influence on your decision to make the new album, or is there a particular story and theme behind the new album that made you think it should be recorded in an acoustic style? I believe you recorded the songs in live takes. Did that present you with any particular difficulties?

Simon: Well, yes, difficulties I’ve already spoken about, and in future if I record this way I probably will take the songs out live for a time first to really know them and break them in. I think there may have been a small influence of the Hobohemia legacy that made me want to do a totally acoustic album, but mainly it was that here in France, where I’ve lived for a couple of years now, my audiences are mostly real listening audiences. It’s the reception I get here that encouraged me to write songs that were less “in your face” than before. So songs like “Patience” or “Requiem,” from the new album, go down really well here, even though not everyone understands the lyrics to any real extent, but they do seem to get the overall emotional story. And that is an interesting situation for me, as I began my songwriting career as a 16 year old trying to write interesting, lyrical, and not very commercial songs in my various bedsits and hippy camps! Some time around the ’80s I must have decided that I needed a “record deal,” and that’s when the art took second place, I think. So, in a way, being here is a return to an artistic sensibility not based on any commercial considerations. I’m pretty sure I can say that I wouldn’t have written most of this album had I still been in the UK and trying to gig there.

Q. Do you think in the future you may return to a full band sound like you had on Make Us Happy, or would you even consider working collaboratively with musicians in a band as you did in 2013 on your Dr. Scardo album Dark Dog Days? What are the pros and cons of working these ways and in the end do you actually prefer working alone?

Simon: Definitely planning a follow up to Make Us Happy; I’ve wanted to for a while. It may be called Makes Us Mad, as the political situation worldwide continues to deteriorate and distress me. I have started collecting musicians I feel would work for this next ensemble piece. I want to see if I could get a near-full Breton musician line-up. So that’s probably my next move. There are sketches in a folder, and of course the studio is ready. Biggest problem here is everyone lives 50 kilometres away from anything. So getting disparate forces together the way I could in Brighton in the UK is a far harder task. But, fortunately, most of the musicians I’ve met are keen to be involved in anything challenging and new, so that’ll happen eventually.

I’ve also just this week had a visit from an old friend from my Berlin and New York days, who has been living back in Australia these past 5 years. I last saw him in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he was living, designing sets for the Kirov Ballet. We did a couple of great shows there with his band. He’s putting a really exciting audio-visual project together, and it looks as if I’ll get involved. It’ll be a live show over three days in a theatre in Edinburgh next year, not available as a recording, but as a video eventually. Something big and noisy and completely uncompromisingly art-rock! As to a rock outfit like Dr. Scardo, probably not, but I did recently meet a piano player and rhythm section at a “boef” (a jam session) in Dinan, and we promised we’d try and get together and do something. I’m keen to try a sort of piano trio with guitar outfit in a cabaret type of setting, sort of louche and slightly decadent. Funny enough a few of my songs will work as they are with a piano backing. We’ll see!

Q. After over 30 years of writing songs do you feel more creatively equipped and inspired now than in the past, and do you continue to strive to find words and music to illustrate your songs that stand out from the ordinary and contrived songwriting, that could be said to be widespread these days? Is it possible that this laudable attribute in making your songs as interesting and challenging as you can could somehow mean people find it hard to pigeon hole your style? This is probably a good thing anyway, isn’t it? I mean, after all, great songs are exactly that, whatever their style or genre, and who wants to ruled by what people expect you to do or sound like? Has it held you back, or are you past caring?

Simon: More equipped, definitely. Inspired, too, but it is always hard work, my cliché-o-meter works overtime. Certainly that means I’m not pigeonholed, but it makes following my own path harder, and whilst musicians now have the means of production, the sheer volume of noise out there makes it very difficult to be heard. As to being held back or whatever, I really don’t know. I’m not good at self-promotion. I used to be way back in London in the ’80s when I was flogging my various bands, but now I really don’t know how to do all that stuff, so I’m not past caring, but I am really more interested in spending my time creating works of beauty.

Q. Once the album is released in September, what do you plan to do next?

Simon: I’m already planning the next projects as I’ve said, Breton musicians, cabaret quartet, and Edinburgh project – no doubt something else will come up, too, that may distract me from all or any of these projects. The important thing is to be always creating, always writing. I intend to also spend my time booking shows here in France, build up my network of musicians for my own projects, and possibly get involved in others.

So after a thoroughly enjoyable, insightful and enlightening conversation with Simon in his lovely French countryside studio I thanked him kindly and wished him well before heading off to listen to my copy of his new album which I shall enjoy reviewing for you next month.

Album Review: Simon Scardanelli – What In The World?

by James Morris, Contributing Blogger

Review of Simon Scardanelli’s newly re-released 1981 debut album: What In The World?

Time and its passing are no one’s friend. It’s a fleeting mistress whose seduction of your youth soon leaves you withering on the branch and you stare back behind you and wonder how the futures you planned became the memories of the past. Why, I hear you say, should I speak so coldly about this passing of the years? Well, to my mind time has moved too swiftly for the undeniable musical talents of Simon Scardanelli. Too long ignored, it seems inconceivable that 35 years have passed since What In The World?, his 1981 debut album release. It is a great injustice in the musical firmament that greater notice has not been taken of the brilliance of Simon Scardanelli. In 2016, he released the wonderful Make Us Happy, perhaps his best album to date. Now he is sticking his head above the parapet again, in his own belligerent and self-determined fashion, by re-releasing this long forgotten album.

Simon Scardanelli

photo courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

I know he had second thoughts about re-visiting this so many years later. As is Simon’s way, he never felt the original album back in 1981 was good enough but maybe hoped it could be a springboard to the next chapter. Falling out with the studio over the mixes and not co-operating with its promotion didn’t help sales, and so the album came and went. After the ice had thawed he managed to regain control of the recordings, and presented here for the first time is his take on the record with his preferred mixes and track listing which both differ from the original vinyl release. Mind you, I think you may be hard pressed to remember the original LP unless you are the die hardest of die hard fans.

For those that don’t know, after this album Simon went on to play keyboards in mid-’80s band the Boomerang Gang, and then in 1988 he formed, with his Canadian compatriot Shark, the duo Big Bam Boo who signed to Polygram and released the album Fun, Faith, & Fairplay.

Anyway, this is all 30-odd years ago, and much musical water has flown under the bridge. Simon has made many great albums, and his current style is far removed from what he was doing back in ’81, so I think it is very brave to go back and release a debut album that may confuse some listeners. Actually though, if you are a fan of Simon’s work, then you will find something tantalising in this time capsule.

Remember this was the time of Kraftwerk, Talking Heads, Bowie’s German period. A transition from ’70s prog rock to new wave synth pop. If you take this album with those thoughts in mind, you can see how it would stack up.

It opens with the track “Astral Suicide,” a slice of lunacy and pomp that immediately sets the bar. It is quickly followed by a crazily catchy song “A Pocketful of Spies,” something that could easily have been charted by someone like “The Thompson Twins.” Both these songs have all the hallmarks of embryonic Scardanelli. If you are familiar with his later releases you can hear that unique voice starting to warm up to what it will later become. You can hear the non-conformist lyrical style developing and the ear for a good tune. You can sense he is on to something and time will set it free.

The track “Day After Day” is proto synth city. I know that Paul McCartney was credited as being ahead of his time with his use of the then-new synth technology on his 1980 album McCartney II. Here on this track, Simon shows similar pioneering spirit, and some of the sounds did put me in mind of the outakes on that McCartney album.

There are many contemporaries that you can hear in the music, maybe Bowie in particular. But I know that Simon did not listen to much other music for fear of being influenced. This is why, most likely, he has never conformed to a genre or style throughout his career. The album was recorded in Germany, and a lot of free reign was given to the creative process. I think that a lot of fun was had in the studio pushing the technology and creating the layers that so identify this music with that time. Simon and studio engineer Nigel Jopson hired Kraftwork’s sequencer only to find it so complicated they didn’t use it in the end. You can picture the size of the equipment then, the wires, patch bays, knobs and generally unwieldy nature of the technology.

There is a bridge developed through this album between the last gasp of prog rock and the emergence of New Wave. As you get nearer to the end of the album you hear that prog rock influence in tracks “Those In Peril” and “You and I.” There are momentous crescendos of dynamic pomposity, sweeping you up and taking you back to those memorable musical times.

The album is an exhausting but pleasurable listen. It is relentless in its voracity with a brief moment of calm on the piano ballad “Lately,” which seems to juxtapose the rest of the album.

The final title track of the album “What In The World?” is maybe the closest you get to more familiar Scardanelli. Driving guitars and layers of synth lines make the audio connection to Big Bam Boo and then possibly even to his band venture Dr. Scardo in 2013. It is a fitting end to the album and both fascinating as a time piece and enjoyable as an album of music.

Any filmmaker or TV ad man that is looking for good genuine ’80s music that hasn’t become hackneyed by overuse should take note. This is a real gem of undiscovered ’80s music. Fresh, authentic, and at times exceedingly catchy. For fans of ’80s music it is a definite must, and for fans of Simon Scardanelli it is a revealing and rewarding listen.


Album Review: Simon Scardanelli – Make Us Happy

Simon Scardanelli – Make Us Happy

The Backstory

My review of Simon Scardanelli’s previous full-length album, Dark Dog Days from his band Dr Scardo, was entry #3 in the “Road Back to Music Journalism” series with which I launched Geoff Wilbur’s Music Blog last fall. In that article, I also touched on Simon’s background in 1980s pop band Big Bam Boo and the fact that I first reviewed one of Simon’s albums when I wrote about his band The Eye Camera’s album entitled Death Row Tales in the mid 1990s. Simon’s new album, Make Us Happy, hit the streets today, March 4, 2016.

Album Review of Simon Scardanelli: Make Us Happy

Simon Scardanelli - Make Us Happy

image courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

In some ways, this sounds almost like a follow-up to Dark Dog Days, if perhaps a bit less dark for the most part. It’s more energetic, and the music itself seems a bit more cheerful on a greater percentage of the tracks, though the lyrics belie the deeper-seated frustration behind the music. I’ve come to expect dark, social issue-driven pop music from Simon, but Make Us Happy has a bit of a roots-rock/country-folk edge to it. Make no mistake, though; Simon’s recognizable voice and inimitable vocal delivery style, as well as the cynically-energetic, carefully-crafted lyrics he delivers, still drive this album. But it has a bit of a unique edge to it. Perhaps the best words I’ve found to describe this collection are that it’s rootsy, issue-driven pop that’s passed through the dark side of a carnival fun-house mirror.

From the first strains of “Whirlwind,” this album begins as you’d expect an Americana disc to open. As the record progresses, the music leans a bit old-school folk-country, suggesting perhaps even a little Johnny Cash toward the beginning of the fourth track, “Hopes in My Pocket.” OK, maybe just a hint.

The title track, “Make Us Happy,” is really an uptempo dark pop track, but the tempo and delivery hint at the rant of a carnival barker sounding the alarm while calling out an energetic, twisted country square dance. This song is a masterpiece!

It’s followed by “Sweet Loretta,” which sounds a bit more like pure Americana music; I’d’ve suggested the mountains of West Virginia, but the song itself mentions Kentucky. And it’s followed by a song that’s oddly accessible, “Truth Seems Stranger,” a song that’s tough to describe more precisely than as folk-pop that’s not as pop as it seems to be.

“Days That Lie” returns to an Old West, country/folk/Americana vibe before the album closes with the ominously haunting “Dagger.”

As a whole, Make Us Happy is a nice, deep, thoughtful collection of songs that lean a bit darker than would ordinarily accompany their pop packaging. If you don’t own any of Simon Scardanelli’s albums, check this one out; it’s not like anything else in your collection. And if you’re already a fan…? Well, though I’m sure you’re planning to buy the disc anyway, I can assure you it’s equal to his best.

Looking Ahead

Check Simon’s website for performance information. On March 13th, you can catch him on Genevieve Tudor’s Sunday Folk @ BBC Radio Shropshire. And on June 9th, he’s scheduled to perform at The Acoustic Club @ Half Moon in Bishop’s Stortford.

The Road Back #3: Dr Scardo

The Road Back to Music Journalism #3: Dr Scardo’s Dark Dog Days Album

Discovering a New Album Through Twitter

Summer 2013

Simon Scardanelli

photo courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

The Backstory

You may recall Simon Scardanelli as part of the 1980s pop group Big Bam Boo. The group had hits that charted in the UK and Canada back in 1989. While publishing Geoff Wilbur’s Renegade Newsletter, in the mid-nineties I reviewed the album Death Row Tales by Simon’s band The Eye Camera. He and I remained in contact through the years. And in the summer of 2013, I spotted a tweet from Simon saying that he was offering a copy of his latest album, Dr Scardo’s Dark Dog Days, as a free download for a week so his fans could check it out. Intrigued, I downloaded it and dove in.

Why This Was a Step on the Road Back

This album was the first music I had decided to download based on a tweet. Indeed, I hadn’t been using any online source to find new music. And even though this album was downloaded on a whim, it finally sparked in me a desire to seek out new music online. Partly because it was unlike any of the music I heard on the radio, I suppose, it refreshed my desire to listen to music I couldn’t otherwise easily find. And even though I had known Simon previously, the new music I began to seek out after this was by other artists who I hadn’t previously known about. In fact the rest of my “Road Back” series will be about these other artists, all of whom I’ve discovered since the day in 2013 I donwloaded Dark Dog Days on a whim. At this point on the “road,” I didn’t have even the slightest hint that I would want to write about music again, but the ball was certainly rolling downhill.

Dr Scardo

image courtesy of Simon Scardanelli

The Album Review of Dr Scardo: Dark Dog Days

Dark Dog Days is a powerful statement about the state of the world. It’s a very issue-driven album. It’s dark. It’s often angry, sometimes brooding, other times melancholy, but mostly insistent, as if an album with an opinion, demanding to be heard. Musically, it’s modern, darkly moody rock with a nod to a synch-pop/rock past.

The dark-pop disc-opener, “Leave Us Alone,” is more than just a disaffected youth anthem; it channels the anger of all people marginalized by society. It’s followed by “Wall Street Hustle,” mixing a catchy recurring rhythm and hook into a lyrical soup attacking Wall Street and politicians for their damage to the working population with a tone that screams anger but also carries a hint of resignation about the way the world works.

Also worth noting: “End of the World” takes a look at civil disobedience and the resistance of the power establishment to protesters’ interests. “Dark Horse Damned” takes a shot at the overmedication of kids. “Resolution Oil” is a 7-minute, exceptionally engaging epic reproach of the oil industry and its impact on the world’s population. Even “If You Could See Me Now,” a 1989 Big Bam Boo song, is given a new, updated, fully modern dark rock treatment, emerging as a sort of slow, insistent, pleading ballad.

And finally, the title track takes aim at the way consumer commercialism has overwhelmed people’s lives so much that its importance in people’s lives has blinded them to what’s being done in the world right before their eyes. It’s amazing a nine-plus minute song can seem to go by so quickly, but like everything on the album, it’s well-crafted and features exceptional musicianship.

Whether or not you agree with its social commentary, Dark Dog Days, as an album, is an artistic masterpiece.