With a colourful CV behind him, the one guarantee with musician/artist Ashley Reaks is that his new album is not going to be dull. Once a promising cricketer, Reaks’ musical career is nothing less than eclectic given that he had stints in (ex-Take That member) Mark Owen’s backing band, toured with Francis Dunnery and also had the honour of appearing on the main stage of Glastonbury for the short-lived and much-hyped outfit Younger Younger 28’s. Rest assured, though, that his solo work resides in a different musical sphere altogether.
The cover artwork to ‘Power Failure’ is a clue to the music since this is essentially a collage of incongruous layers of sound. It’s captivating from the moment the rumbling bassline of ‘Egg To Worm To Fly’ thunders in. Reaks’ delivery, part-sung, part-spoken is arresting (“I’m a Christ!” he declares) but he is also acutely aware that bringing in guest vocalists adds even more vibrancy. So Maria Jardardottir soothes on ‘Lucky Gordon’ and a collaboration with Lucy Mizen for the melodic jazz number ‘Bulldog Grace’ is worthy of commercial radio.
Using a spoken word contribution can be a dangerous idea but poet Joe Hakim’s contribution is compelling, especially when his state of the nation musings are set to slinky Happy Mondays-esque rhythms. Further demonstrating his versatility, Reaks is just at home whether he is making strident piano instrumentals, (‘No Wonder Camels Spit’), chanting (“the shouldn’t work but it does” approach of ‘Miss Holy Holy’) or offering some surprisingly palatable progressive jazz (‘The Glances Of Mercy’).
‘Power Failure’ is not pop but Reaks has an ear for grooves and hooks which makes what should be a challenging listen into one which is ultimately addictive. Reference points are hard to identify since this is a very unique-sounding album but Public Image fans are likely to love it. So given his chequered past, Reaks could be classed as a late bloomer and after making this excellent record, one would hope he wouldn’t need to work with Mark Owen again.
Public Image Ltd