It’s Immaterial described their own second album from 1990 as “commercial suicide but definitely worth doing”. No surprise then that they failed to shake off the “one hit wonder” tag bestowed on them after 1986’s ‘Driving Away From Home’ single. A great shame because ‘Song’ is a classy ambient pop affair that’s worth revisiting.
Comparison with The Blue Nile are obvious and not just because their producer Calum Malcolm is on board here; emphasising the lush synth textures of ‘Song’. For It’s Immaterial also favoured the long-drawn out approach to each track. Even if John Campbell’s half-spoken/half-sung approach lacks the emotional power of The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan (at its worse, on ‘Endless Holiday’, Campbell sounds detached, almost disinterested), his narrative is usually warm and involving.
Hooks are few and far between but certain key lines are memorable; like a reassuring “It’s going to be alright. Things are going to work out fine” for ‘Heaven Knows’ or a defiant “goodbye suburbia” on ‘In The Neighbourhood’. Flamenco-flavoured ‘Homecoming’ is a lovely slice of subtle melancholia whilst ‘Your Voice’ ups the melodrama with its romantic images. The two bonus tracks are also quite delightful and perversely feature Campbell in his most yearning form.
The sleevenotes to ‘Song’ suggest the album was ahead of its time and would have achieved higher sales if it was put out today. This is unlikely given that many of the tracks here lack a conventional verse and chorus structure; ‘Song’ could surely have only been released nowadays on a tiny independent label who hadn’t heard of the term “profit margins”.
At times the album is too understated and rambling to be truly satisfying but it maintains a elegant, wistful atmosphere. So it is probably best appreciated on a long train journey whilst watching the crumbling landscapes of Northern England pass by.
The Blue Nile, China Crisis