Ian Gillan - Dreamcatcher
The brilliant title certainly conjures up images and is very Gillan-ish. A rather laid back album, it follows nicely onto Accidentally On Purpose, but then again not. In sound it probably comes closer to Naked Thunder, but then again not. In its wide variety of musical styles it sits fine next to Cher Kazoo & Other Stories, but then again not. Oh, do get on with it! When the album first got here it recieved some serious attentive listening, but that's not what this album's all about. Give it a spin while attending to other things and you'll soon find certain melodies and catch phrases worming their way under your skin - and a very pleasant experience this is too. This album is the perfect background music for cleaning your house, cooking your dinner, working on your computer - anything. While this type of music might not be what we've come to expect from our Man here, there's still a chance he'll read a compliment into this. Be my guest! Indeed, considering his aim to make an album of songs useful for humming while walking along the beach he's certainly hit the nail on the head here. Here's loads of enjoyable melodies, catchy and memorable, and most of them with an incredibly unremitting backing as well.
The big surprise here is that four tracks are credited to the abandoned Repo Depo project, follow-up to Toolbox, with the excellent Lenny Haze on drums, the mad Brett Bloomfield on bass and the effective Dean Howard on guitar. However, none of these very fine musicians feature on this album. And this might be the album's major down-fall. Not that these particular people aren't featured, but that practically nobody actually plays on the album. Steve Morris, who wrote most of Naked Thunder and Toolbox with Ian, supplies some very efficient and varied guitar playing, excellent as ever and Ian's singing is spotless (save for the practically spineless Anyway You Want Me - see later). But other than that (and the odd Lunch Wrapper) it's all machines; drum machines, sequencers, synthesizers, etc. Think of this what you will, but to these ears it's a big shame and might dampen some people's enthusiasm about an otherwise very fine set of songs.
Chandra's Coriander is the opener and also one of the best tracks here. With reduced and inventive backing this is a true gem - already a favorite.
Gunga Din was the first ever Internet Single and as such was very interesting. It's an all-out Scottish folk song with very imaginative words on Ian's father, complimented nicely by Gunga Din, The Story, as told in the CD booklet. Speaking of the booklet, I've got the Japanese edition and here the lyrics come seperately to the proper booklet, indicating that other territories might not get the lyrics at all. This is once again a big shame and, together with the sometimes very stilted backing tracks, add to the impression of a budget release.
Hard On You is the first of the four Repo Depo tracks and as could be expected this is genuine rock. Good stuff.
Sleepy Warm is the softest, most heartfelt love song Ian's done for years, probably ever. No doubt this one's for Bron and for its lyrical content alone it rates up there along with Hole In My Vest (single b-side from Naked Thunder). Not-so-sentimental clients might find the repeated "I love you's" a little too much though.
Country Mile is probably the best little pop song Ian's ever involved himself with - All In My Mind and Prima Donna also fit into that description just nicely.
You Sold My Love For A Song opens up with that old harmonica and some lazy blues guitar in the background. The cigarette smoke almost makes my eyes run during the first verse or two, but then the drum machine kicks in for the harmonica solo - Oh dear! On Accidentally On Purpose there were mostly just the two of them playing, but it was real, live musicians playing. When this song reaches the second guitar solo it sounds very much like one of those guitar tuition tapes where some hot rod plays along to his private "band in a box." (© S. Morse). Sure, the harmonica's there and so's Morris' guitar, but that tame programming breaks anyone's concentration.
A Day Late 'N' A Dollar Short is next and opens quite impressively. Possibly the heaviest track on the album and probably also one of the catchiest. But for someone who watched and heard Lenny Haze on the Toolbox tour, the electronic re-making of his parts here is close to sacrilege! Hell, the man's running around on the US West coast out of a job, would it really have cost too much to ask him over and play on this (and the other three energetic Repo Depo tracks?). I would'n even mention the story that Simon Phillips was hired to do drums for one of the tracks on this album only to have his parts scrapped in favour of a machine - oops! Incidentally, A Day Late... was already performed live by Repo Depo (when they were still called Gillan) in Switzerland, august 1992. The version then was almost identical to this one, even lyrical wise, save for a longer, speeded-up part at the end - good fun too!
"I haven't got a job coz they say they couldn't use no freaks!" Ian reminiscing on his occupational problems in 1989 here? Nah, it's Sugar Plum, another heavy one and again very impressive save for the reasons already mentioned. Ian really lets himself loose on this one with a finger-snappingly good vocal performance. He's re-using the lyrics to A Little Share Of Plenty here in a very justifiable 1997 re-titled version of that great old song, funnily enough credited to the Repo Depo crew.
Anyway You Want Me To (That's How I Will Be) is easily the worst thing Ian's ever involved himself with. An old love song standard (Yes I'm the great Pretender type) with the worst workman-like drum machine backing you'll ever find. He simply ruins himself on this one, not in the least because his performance here sounds very tentative, although it might just be your's truly not realizing what he's trying to do. In any event a total non-happening to these ears, sorry!
It's worthwhile to mention that the Japanese version of Dreamcatcher comes not only with the added luxury of a lyric sheet, but also with 1.5 bonus tracks; One all new track, High Ground (another Repo Depo effort also first aired in august 1992) and an alternative version of Sleepy Warm.
An overview over this album shows that Ian has been very successful at achieving his stated goal. However, a couple of things do drag down the general impression here; The often unrestrained use of machines does tend to clog the happy-go-lucky nature of some songs, where a few real hot blooded musicians would have injected more life and spark. And secondly, the two cover songs, That's Why God Is Singin' The Blues and Anyway You Want Me sound practically redundant in this good company!
By the way, a fifth Repo Depo track often used as en encore on the Toolbox tour, potently titled something like Blue Steel (For You) has still not seen the light of day in any official form. One day, Ian?