More lockdown musings, anchored in Middlesex perhaps but with a much wider vision.
The Rockingbirds and Alan Tyler are well recognised for their pioneering role in what we’ll call UK Americana, but in his solo career, Tyler has explored various other avenues. He has an affinity with places (London and its surrounding areas), characters such as William Blake and, at least on his last album ‘El Tapado’, an acute sense of a world gone wrong.
‘El Tapado’ saw Tyler using synthesised sounds as the base building blocks for his songs and ‘Made In Middlesex’ (so called because many of the basic tracks were recorded in his parents’ house in the northwest outskirts of London) began life in a similar manner during the first lockdown. Come July 2021 (remember Freedom day?) the recordings were taken to the studio to get their Sunday clothes on. Sean Read, Patrick Ralla, Eddie Real and Rick Batey (all previous Tyler cohorts) were enlisted and the songs were thrashed out.
Five of the songs here are basically the original Middlesex recordings with Tyler on synthesiser and guitar, recorded on his laptop. There’s an interesting comparison to be made with Peter Bruntnell’s ‘Journey To The Sun, another home recorded album which used synthesised sounds. Tyler makes more use of synthesised percussion but his songs, like Bruntnell’s at times, have a curious leaning to earlier folk rock experimentation – the mock harpsichord on ‘No Cure For’ recalls spooky TV themes for 70s’ kids as Tyler sings quite grandly in a manner reminiscent of Jackie Leven. It’s a cunning song as Tyler never states what there is no cure for, other than perhaps ennui. ‘Lucky People’ is charmingly naive bedsit electro pop while ‘Mercy’ might be perceived as a pandemic song with the singer cloistered within and reflecting on happier times. Likewise, ‘Saint Saturnine’, saturated with burbling synth sounds and with Tyler sounding quite cavernous, is a gloomy rumination on the writer’s mindset. Meanwhile, ‘You’ve Got Me’ is an arresting amalgam of 80s’ synth-pop, sleek soul romance and Dan Michaelson-like vocal depth.
The band tracks are, in comparison, chirpier and more outwards looking. ‘Somewhere Better’ is a riposte to the divisions fostered by our poisonous government with Tyler saluting that which ties us together across the nation – try to imagine George Orwell, Jackie Leven, and Billy Bragg, having a pint of draft stout in The Moon Under Water and deciding to write a song together. Closer to home, Tyler then offers us his stirring adaptation of William Blake’s poem, ‘London’, a (very) early notice of the blight imposed on ordinary folk by the towering machinations of progress. ‘Yesterday’s Chips’ meanwhile is a happy-go-lucky pop song of sorts, although it again is quite rueful regarding the march of progress – keep up, or fall behind and fuck off or words to that effect it seems to say.
Tyler closes this clever album with a bit of an in-joke. ‘Write Another Country Song Again’ is played in the style of The Rockingbirds, with Tyler name checking some touchstones and having a go at those who wonder if synthesisers have a place amidst songs that mention Joshua Trees. Well, here he proves that they can.
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