Wilfully avoiding the mainstream, Broughton remains resolutely underground and genre curious. Welcome back!
Release Date: 27th October 2023
Label: Esoteric/Cherry Red
Format: CD / digital
Yes, you read that correctly, Edgar Broughton. That one, the Edgar Broughton Band one, all hair and beard, flat bed trucks and free festivals, Out, Demons, Out and Apache Dropout. Actually, always a more melodic proposition than that summary might offer, the band: EB, brother Steve and Arthur Grant being the core members, effectively ceased to exist in 2010, with various layoffs in between, and along the way, from the 1969 debut, Wasa Wasa. So what happened next?
It seems he has subsequently become quite the man for synths and electronica, never stopping writing and experimenting, building slowly up a stash of material; many of these songs had their seeds sown years and sometimes decades ago. Not that he has forsaken the guitar, with lashings of old style soloing all over this release, and nor has he forsaken old pals, with Grant having a sizeable footprint on the sound, his bass offering a constancy of rumble. John Leckie mixes, the well-established producer actually getting his first taste of studio work, decades ago, on Wasa Wasa. Strings were always an integral part of EBB, here no exception, the orchestrations maybe now a little more nuanced. Other guitar parts come from one Calle Arngrip, via Twitter, X as now is, no less, with whom Broughton made contact, enrolling him to supply also the cello, each of which was added remotely. They still haven’t physically met.
I have left perhaps the most distinctive feature of this artist to last, his voice always an unusual and distinctive bit of kit, with the hoarse and husky texture of a man fighting to avoid swallowing his tongue. That’s a compliment, by the way, and from the opening bars of One Breath it seems it may still be there. A tinkle of rippling keyboards, doomy power chords, some synthetic bleep and booster, and peals of guitar sonics, and we’re off, with a multi-layered choral vocal to give the sense of introduction, almost an overture. Simultaneously ancient and modern, it is an enticing start.
First track proper, then, is Belle Of Trevelyan, where Arngrip gets to bow some majestic cello, Broughton unfolding his voice for real, glory be, and preserved near totally. An atmospheric ballad expounding, I think, the adventures of a pirate of the future, it is unashamedly grand-guignol, rock operatic almost. The string section sweeps generously about the never more 70’s guitar, and all feels as it should.
Six White Horses has an 80’s into 90’s electronica feel, like OMD, when they added guitars, fronted by a cross between Marc Almond and Dave Gahan, each perhaps with the beginnings of diphtheria. I love the over the top dramatics seeping throughout every layer. I’d personally revive the format to see this on Top of the Pops. Flowers In A Bowl then threatens to pick up from Evening Over Rooftops, my entry level to the band, from their debut, the so called eponymous”Meat” album. To be fair, the strings are more fully realised, and Broughton multi-tracks himself into a visceral choir. The lyrics are, it’s true, a bit of a nonsense, which, counter-intuitively, is exactly what they should be. In case my overall description is beginning to sound a tad Phantom Of The Opera, The Raven’s Song is more of a rocker, guitar and strings giving a moody riff, as drums pound away in the basement. I note that percussion is, as well as the vocals, guitars and keyboards, attributed to Broughton, and the drums certainly don’t sound programmed. Ravens and lyrics that “bring us to our knees” reveal archetypal heavy concerns, the treating of the vocal, let alone the ghostly bvs, adding to the squall, which even handclap precussion can’t leaven. Thank goodness.
Flute and apocalyptic mood music beckon in Morning Dew, declamatory clangs of guitar scaffolding the music. A twinned guitar conversation makes for an effective bridge. “I thought a baby crying this morning, thought I heard a baby crying today, but I didn’t hear a baby crying this morning, didn’t hear a baby crying anyway…..” This isn’t intended to be a breezy ride and isn’t, but, hey, this is Edgar, remember, no mid-life epiphanies brightening his door. Actually, Eulia is a bit lighter, as close to a ballad this gets, with evocative guitar peals and electronic swathes of robocop. Wailing background vocals suggest it isn’t any radical change of scenery. I like it.
But, with his voice now transposed into croon mode, Almost Dancing does offer a change of direction. An unexpected one at that. Clearly a love song, it has a hint even of latterday Leonard Cohen from when he first added synthesisers and female backing vocals. It is a pearl, all the more pleasurable for the surprise, even if The Deben Flow reverts to type, with a reprise of the more manic material before. Back on Gahan demento, there is a whiff of a dancefloor in this one, Blancmange coming to mind, if through a psychedelic filter. The flowing water with which it ends adds a decent touch. Hymn is then an anguished paean, and aptly titled, with swathes of strings, real and electronic, and deep cello the keynote structure. A foghorn-like guitar sears through the second half and the realisation Broughton has been slowly building to this moment suddenly becomes apparent. Broughton becomes Brel.
After that denouement, the poppy, by EB standards, The Sound Doesn’t Come is a further surprise. It’s as if he had to doom you into submission, before regaling you with tunes, deliberately, other than by accident, as it feels composite, rather than any overt schism between the “sides”. The drums are almost skipping, with a metallically spiky guitar solo the icing on this celebration. In The Half Light is a pleasing baritone serenade, at a gentle pace, midway between dirge and dancing, the clatter of drums almost a military roll. Extraordinary. Which leaves only the seven plus minutes of the title track. “What have we done to the children?“, he asks, lugubriously, beginning a song that, in another time and place, would have cigarette lighters in the sky. He then makes a strange sound, a sort of mm hmmm, from halfway between his throat and stomach, an endearing oddness that nails the track, begging him to repeat it, which he does, often. Piano is a guiding beacon through the song, and it is quite lovely. And it is also a good deal shorter than the expectation, with a gap revealing an eventual coda, a poem with treated voices and allusions to the old ways. OK. Your choice as to skip this and end with a smile, or leave it on and end, not a little confused. I think Mr Broughton might prefer the latter.
Try out Belle Of Trevelyan for comfort: