Be-Bop Deluxe – Sunburst Finish: Album Review

Be-Bop Deluxe on this new vinyl edition of Sunburst Finish provide a near-perfect amalgam of melodic and engagingly catchy song writing and progressive and rock influences.

Release date: 28th April 2023

Label:  Esoteric Recordings/Cherry Red Records

Format:  Vinyl

When Be-Bop Deluxe released their debut album Axe Victim in 1974, it was clear that this was a very special band, with Bill Nelson’s gift for impressive songwriting and striking guitar arrangements, an immediate attraction.  Be-Bop Deluxe released Sunburst Finish, their third album, in 1976. Joined by new band member Andy Clark on keyboards, the album represents a near-perfect amalgam of melodic and engagingly catchy songwriting and progressive and rock influences. Its creative uniqueness representing a further development and maturing of the musical vision of songwriter, guitarist extraordinary, and vocalist, Bill Nelson. It also contained the band’s most successful single, Ships In The Night, which reached 23 in the UK Singles Chart. It is also a very well-produced album with the production shared between Bill Nelson and John Leckie.

Fair Exchange, the opening song, with its classic guitar feedback intro, blends an edgy rock feel, with Andy Clark’s rolling piano, and a charming pop sensibility. This is flawlessly allied with rapid progressive rock-influenced time signature changes, and Bill Nelson’s bold guitar phrases.

Heavenly Homes, which follows, is a slow building song with some nice acoustic guitar and piano accents, and some wonderfully crisp and involving drumming by Simon Fox, that includes some impressively intricate drum and cymbal fills. It is a song with a cinematic range, that sonically draws the listener into a dazzling and atmospheric palette of sounds.

Ships In The Night, was a well-deserved hit single, that is the perfect rock based pop song. It is infectious from beginning to end, with Charlie Tumahai’s funk driven bass and Simon Fox’s hi-hat driven groove, providing a spirited underpinning for Andy Clark’s tasteful use of synthesizer, and a sublime vocal performance from Bill Nelson, full of sympathetic phrasing as he declares the necessity of love to life. Add to this Bill Nelson’s magnificent guitar flourishes, and the jazz-tinged saxophone and electric piano solos from respectively Ian Nelson and Andy Clark, and you have the perfect rock and pop song.

Crying To The Sky is an emotionally tinged ballad that showcases Bill Nelson’s wonderous guitar playing. There are two guitar solos, with the first weaving some beautifully melodic phrases through a wash of sustain and distortion. The second increases the dynamic attack and swirls around the mix with an imposing flying tone that sounds just incredible. This is guitar playing of the highest order, utterly compelling and immersive to experience.

These four tracks represent a dazzling and memorable beginning to any album, and if you are not familiar with the music of Be-Bop Deluxe or Bill Nelson, it can’t fail to capture your attention, and interest, to explore this music further.

Other highlights on the album include, Life In The Air Age, with its appealing percussion and wah-wah guitar driven intro. The soulful rhythm guitar playing is an absolute joy, as the song sympathetically recounts the story of someone feeling out of place in the historical age they live in. The concluding outro again captures the listener’s attention, with this time the drums and keyboards providing the charming musical motif.

Crystal Gazing is a lovely, understated song, that adds strings and brass to the musical mix, lending an epic feel to the storytelling at the core of the song. Blazing Apostles closes the album with Bill Nelson’s authoritative guitar phrasing flowing in and out of the dynamic mix, which has a gripping hard rock drive, alongside a range of more subtle musical touches.                   

This excellent vinyl edition release includes the musical credits and lyrics on the inner record bag, and an oversize poster of the band. It features the extremely good Stephen W Tayler remix, and the pressing has a nice warm sound, and wide soundstage with a good separation of the instruments. This means that all the subtle musical touches like Simon Fox’s cymbal work, and Andy Clark’s array of different keyboard sounds all come through clearly. A listen to the stage right positioning of Andy Clark’s electric piano solo on Ships In The Night is a good illustration of this.

A great release then that showcases all the musical elements that made Be-Bop Deluxe such a great band.

Be Bop Deluxe: The Making Of ‘Sunburst Finish’ is an interesting documentary, with co-producers  Bill Nelson and John Leckie telling the story behind the making of the album. You can view the video here:

You can find out more about Bill Nelson and Be-Bop Deluxe here:

 Bill Nelson: Website / Facebook

Be-Bop Deluxe: Facebook

You can find out more about Cherry Red Records releases here: Website / Facebook

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