ALBUM REVIEW Artist: Ian Prowse Album: Does This Train Stop On Merseyside Website: amsterdam-music.com
A ‘Best Of’ is a funny proposition for the listener.
For the artist, a summation of a lifetime’s work, neatly presented in a box with lots of photographs and comment, is a lovely idea. It’s something tangible to cherish.
But the listener? We’ve often heard it all before and have bought it already. There are exceptions though. And ‘Does This Train Stop On Merseyside? The Best Of Ian Prowse’ is a notable one.
Lots of people have never heard Prowse’s music. His first band Pele flirted with the UK Top 40, his current band Amsterdam hit it at the start of this century and lots of his songs have hovered around the periphery of the music industry… inspiring and moving only those in the know.
Fair enough, alongside many devoted followers, those in the know to be touched by the Merseysider’s work have included Elvis Costello, Christy Moore and John Peel! But widespread acclaim has eluded the emotional songwriter.
Until now that is. As this is a collection of music to move the hardest of hearts and to agitate the most contented of souls. We’ll start with a look at the currency that counts: the new songs.
‘Maybe There Is A God After All’ is the best of the new tunes and opens with a melancholic look at what it means to become a father: “These are the days/that made a man of me…” sings Prowse over a melodic acoustic guitar figure that quickly turns into a Waterboys-esque shuffle, with a catchy fiddle and flute line. ‘Rise Like A Lion’ is a waltz-time Celtic affair, with a softer riff than usually offered from Prowse, but with one of his biggest chorus’. The playing is delicate, yet the results powerful, and the song (produced by the songwriter too) is the work of an experienced and gifted musician – and oddly reminds this writer of a better, late-period Paul McCartney tune. The compilation ends with ‘Here I Am’, a declaration of independence and an enjoyable romp through what it means to be a boy with a guitar.
The new tunes cut the mustard, then. But it’s the big hitters on this collection that leave lasting impressions: Amsterdam live favourites like ‘Home’, ‘Joe’s Kiss’ and ‘Takin’ On The World’ sound big, beefy and bouncy by turns; while the Pele tunes (released in the early 90s) haven’t dated either, with ‘Megalomania’, ‘Fat Black Heart’ and ‘Policemen’ delivering pop, politics and poetry respectively.
The music comes full circle too, as you hear the pop rock of Amsterdam being born in the electric guitars of (Pele’s) ‘Raid The Palace’, ‘Don’t Worship Me’ and ‘Fair Blows The Wind For France’, before the former reverts to the latter’s gorgeous Gaelic template of fiddles and flutes leading the way. Melody and vocal delivery remain key throughout and lots of the singing hits you where it hurts.
To illuminate this release as a ‘Best Of’ (rather than a ‘Greatest Hits’), recordings with the aforementioned Costello and Moore have been included too, with mixed results.
While Prowse and Costello’s voices match so well on a duet of The Searchers’ ‘Don’t Throw Your Love Away’, the song itself never gets going and the saccharine melody and lyric do Prowse’s wounded intent no favours. The Christy Moore recording though – an album track from Amsterdam’s 2008 LP ’Arm In Arm’ – is a revelation: ‘Nothing’s Goin’ Right’ takes the best of Springsteen and Shakespeare and brew’s up a storm on the Irish Sea, with Prowse’s falsetto and Moore’s deep delivery combining to bring the landing stage into view.
As a set of songs goes, this will take some beating. A thread of the personal, political and, erm, popical (sorry) runs through the tunes and it’s refreshing to hear a songwriter get better and stay relevant throughout his career (compare latter day thinker ‘Love Phenomenon’ to the NME-baiting ‘Don’t Worship Me’).
In short, this is a record designed to shine a spotlight on a singer and songwriter who has delivered work of the highest order for 20 years. You might know the name… now go and look up the numbers.