There is a whole lot goin’ on here, and it is all good.
The ‘Purple Emperor Spreads His Wings‘, the new double album by The Wave Pictures is a tour de force. It energetically revives the double disc concept, reminding us why sometimes 20 songs are exactly what’s needed to create a whole. Each side of the discs portrays a season; the four together create a song cycle of a whole year. The album also celebrates the influences that inspire the trio that is The Wave Pictures. You can hear a little country, some surf music, and a lot of early British pop, all done with authenticity and freshness. In one hour, six minutes and 51 seconds, Wave Pictures have condensed decades of sounds, seamlessly moving from style to style. It’s quite a feat for three people with a few friends. They carry it off because of the sheer musicality that comes through every song. There is nothing disruptive in the changeover from ‘The Who’-inspired ‘Douglas’ to ‘Jennifer’ with its echoes of African pop. Clearly, these are musicians who know each other and own what they do. They take the influences and make them theirs. The arrangements are dead on. Harmonica is used when the song won’t work without it; the same with instruments but the real foundation of this album rests on that rock trinity – lead, bass and drums. This takes pop back to the basics. The guitars ring, celebrating the centrality of that sound in pop. The bass and drums take their rightful place as equals with the lead to create great songs that use riffs from the roots of pop.
Ok, they can play, but can they write? While the music reprises sounds from around the world and across the decades the lyrics are often personal, as in ‘Winter Baby’. And only The Wave Pictures could write ‘Walking to Wymeswold’. Yet they also touch the universal in songs like ‘When the Purple Majesty Spreads His Wings’. Within the theme of the four seasons the lyrics tell stories as in ‘Never Better’. Meanwhile ‘Rivers of Gold’ is a three-minute reflection of a moment. There is poetry in these lyrics. They are somewhat ambiguous, the quality to which poets of the moment are encouraged to aspire. They read well without the music, but really come alive with it. They draw us in by sharing the personal and reward us for coming by highlighting the universal. And they have a sense of humour, which keeps everyone from taking it all too seriously.
But what makes this whole is the sense of joy that comes through. It’s not necessarily in the lyrics, but in the whole experience created by The Wave Pictures. At some point, it feels like these three musicians would be doing this even if no one else was listening and that they are enjoying the making of music and the telling of stories amongst themselves. Lucky then that we were invited to listen in.