Suede was among the pioneers and frontline purveyors of what became known as Britpop of the ’90s – practically an extension or offshoot of New Wave music, which dominated the Pop/Rock scene in the decade previous to that. This was the reason fans of the band and the entire scene for that matter were disappointed when the English band’s original guitarist, Bernard Butler, was booted out of the group. After all, his role was pivotal. He and Vocalist Brett Anderson were Suede’s chief songwriters, regarded by many as a collaborative pair that had the making of another thunderous tandem comparative to Morrissey and Johnny Marr of The Smiths.
Fortunately, despite that major hurdle, Anderson and the rest of Suede were able to soldier on, celebrating the arrival in 1994 of the then 17-year-old protégé, Guitarist Richard Oakes, who turned out to be not only a mere replacement for Butler’s vacated position but also a more-than-able co-songwriter to the impassioned Anderson. Oakes built up on Butler’s electrifying guitar playing and even upped the ante by incorporating his own penchant for Pop, Rock, and infectious melodies. The new pair, along with the other Suede-heads, subsequently went on to pen many of the refurbished band’s future classics, such as “Filmstar,” “Everything Will Flow,” “Obsessions,” and their chart-topping crowning glory, “Beautiful Ones.”
A truly creative spirit, Oakes in 2008, pursued a side project to explore more of his own musical ideas. This resulted in the duo Artmagic, the other half of whom is Producer Sean McGhee as the singer and synthesizer player. They released their debut album in 2012, and the long-awaited followup is coming out this Friday, June 15, 2018.
Released via Artmagicmusic/AWAL, Artmagic’s sophomore full-length is a slight departure from its predecessor’s immersion in old English Folk. Still steeped with melancholic and bucolic sensibilities, the songs however veer more towards an Indie Pop direction. Titled The Songs of Other England, it opens with the refreshing pastoral sound and reflective lyricism of “The Farmer and the Field.” The title track then follows in the same wind-hushed introspection and is founded on a texture of saccharine instrumentation. Oakes and McGhee turn even more sentimental with the sparse and slow swing of “The King of Fishers” and “The Fruit of the Mystery.”
An album highlight, “I Won’t Change You” begins as if a faint pulse and then bursts into an upbeat, inspired stomper – commendable for its progressive arrangement. The piano-led “Black Flowers Bloom” is a trek into Progressive Folk, owing to its syncopated rhythm and psychedelic guitar flourishes. “The Clean Room” returns the listener to the album’s suburban, countryside predisposition, whereas the ensuing “The Boys’ Own Book of Birds” is an equivalent of a Dreampop/Shoegaze ballad – drenched in swirling and whirling layers of guitars.
“Into the Light” builds on the hypnotic sonic miasma of the previous track – dizzying and intoxicating, as if bathed in the afterglow of the dark side of the moon. A further trip down the memory lane of Psychedelic Pop Rock music, “The Dark of the Human Heart” might remind the initiated of The Beatles’ “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” and Paul & Linda McCartney’s “Monkberry Moon Delight.”
Finally, Artmagic close their well-crafted new record with an elegy of a song – “Sing for the Snowfall” – an Indie Pop lullaby that will take the listener to a soft surf on the waltzy wings of English coastal waves.
With his works with Suede as proof of his having been an important artist in his own right, Oakes with his endeavor with McGhee certainly deserves similar attention and accolades. The music of Artmagic is, after all, a different kind of scent yet still rich in Pop hooks mixed with the primness of ye old English Folk music. The Songs of Other England is a beautiful representation of that. CrypticRock gives it 4 out of 5 stars.