Album Review: Andy Bell - The View From Halfway Down
Updated: Oct 25, 2020
As I’m sat preparing to write this review I am listening to a conversation taking place somewhere behind me, in which someone, in-between saying that "children today don’t know they are born" and "the White Album was too long", stated that the "album is dead". If anything, Andy Bell proves that statement to be entirely wrong with his debut solo offering, The View From Halfway Down.
Having filled out airwaves, record collections and hearts with his performances, the Wave the guitarist has finally dropped his much anticipated solo record, with mastering courtesy of Hebra Kadry, whose cv includes the likes of Bjork and Slowdive, and the engineering genius of his former Oasis and Beady Eye bandmate Gem Archer. Rumour has it that the death of David Bowie was the drive needed by Bell to push forwards and complete of the record, with only Ride's re-emergence as a touring band force acting as a delay.
Clearly Bell is not in the mood to waste any more time, crashing the album open with Love Comes In Waves and, oh my, what a track it is. Dare I say it - the best song we’ve heard on the radio this half of the year? It’s incessant, refusing to slow, owning a hook that is eternally whirling - a riff that continually lifts you skyward towards the stars, or perhaps along on a psychedelic journey across a far reaching ocean. It’s a song you never want to end. This is taking everything great about his primary employers, Ride, and adding his own spark to it. I adore this song and the fact it opens the record is Andy throwing down the marker as early as he can.
Next up is Indica and through this you can hear how Oasis, as their line-up changed and Bell joined, altered their sound - his DNA is all over it. It’s more than a slice of electronica psychedelia, it draws on decades-spanning influences from The Beatles to Gil-Scott Heron to The Charlatans. A steady bass guides us through this gorgeous track that is the chill required following the opener.
The third track, acoustic number Ghost Tones is introduced with Muffled drums and is soaked in seasonal melancholy. The finger picking is delicate and the song haunts it way through two and a half minutes of the album with such subtle beauty, before our spirits are lifted with Skywalker, a track pulling on the late-80s Manchester indie scene, with its bass riff and jangling guitar. The break is what we’d expect from Mani stood on Spike Island, and that ringing guitar keeps you moving just as the song threatens to force you into a state of blissful relaxation. The vocals are gentle and gorgeous. It’s long, but it’s great.
Over halfway through and my, I love the guitar on Aubrey Drylands Gladwell, with it successfully towing the line between psychedelia and prog. Cutting through the centre of the album, the lead guitar work wiggles its way towards the end of the a-side, building into a crescendo of fine finger work. We are then greeted with a rolling Beta Band-esq sound, with brushed drums and a bouncing bass covered by a great guitar hook on Cherry Cola. I think these may be my favourite vocals on the album, the production great, creating an early-90s baggy feel.
As the record begins to draw the close Bell leaves us with some epic tracks, the masterpieces of the album. He starts with an absolute dreamscape of a song in I Was Alone, which is so atmospheric in what it creates. It continues the album's trend of managing to carry your soul along with it, floating above the landscape below. It could be taken from the Mighty Boosh or similar, with psychedelic-cum-electronica, slightly out of tune to keep you on your toes - it does indeed keep you guessing. It never tops out, it lifts and drops, refusing to escalate beyond a return. It's simply beautiful. It is the perfect foreword to Heat Haze On Weyland Road, the closer.
We are at the end, almost, but first is a seven minute electronic odyssey. The production work is great, dropping in effects that are just right in their number, pulling out the key aspects of the music. It might be a tad long, but it draws you towards the album close with a sound so different to the rest of the record - chucking some saxophone into the mix for good measure - and showing Andy's all round musical influences. This album screams that Bell is not one dimensional, he is more than the sum of his past (and present) band memberships and he can take joyful inspiration from across his record collection. It’s an utter delight of a record and just what we needed as Autumn draws in.