October 15, 2015 China Crisis – Autumn in the Neighbourhood (Album Review)
The recently released China Crisis album Autumn in the Neighbourhood is one of those that, despite the long gap between it and its predecessor, 1994’s Warped by Success, sounds very assured, grounded, characteristic of the trademark sonic style of its parent, and assuring, especially to the band’s longtime fans. Many bands take pride and bask in the glory of being able to produce music whose style immensely varies from album to album—a reflection, really, of the creative restlessness and penchant for experimentation of whoever has the control of the band’s direction. There is nothing wrong with this. After all, every band has the right to take its music to wherever its members want to take it to. However, there are also artists who seem to find confidence and comfort and who possess a strength in character in being able to maintain a distinct identity and a clear sense of direction, and there is also dignity and, in fact, a greater respectability in that. China Crisis is one of these types of bands. This is what has endeared the English band to its countless fans since the release of its first album thirty-three years ago. China Crisis’ new album is another testament of this musical certainty that the band has become known for.
Gary Daly (vocals/keyboards) and Eddie Lundon (guitar/backing vocal) founded China Crisis in 1979, in Merseyside, England. In their enduring, albeit on-and-off music career, the duo, with a revolving cast of collaborators that included Gary “Gazza” Johnson (bass) and the late Kevin Wilkinson (drums/percussion), have released seven studio albums, from 1982’s Difficult Shapes & Passive Rhythms, Some People Think It’s Fun to Entertain to their latest work, Autumn in the Neighbourhood. The overall style of the band may be best characterized by the mellifluousness and fluidity of non-Punk New Wave and Synthpop, the commercial catchiness of Pop, the breeziness and relaxed mood of Smooth Jazz, and the orchestral flourishes of woodwind-oriented Classical music. China Crisis achieved this kind of sound with the use of Classical-attributed instruments on top of acoustic guitars, Jazz-influenced bass playing, keyboards, synthesizers, percussion, jazzy, yet unobtrusive drum patterns, and the marked absence of heavily distorted guitars.
Released on June 3, 2015, Autumn in the Neighbourhood generated a bright energy of excitement among the fans of the band, especially during the process of its production, which was made possible with the direct help of the band’s loyal fanbase via pledgemusic.com. The result of this endeavor surely did not disappoint those who waited for its eventual release. After all, the album preceding it was released more than two decades ago!
Autumn in the Neighbourhood carried the intrinsically beautiful qualities that any initiated listener could expect from a China Crisis offering. It opens with the New Romantic–styled “Smile (What Kind of Love Is This),” whose intro evokes the Sonatas for Wind Quartet of the 19th-century Italian composer Gioachino Rossini. It harks back to the classic orchestral and percussive sound of China Crisis heard on the likes of “A Golden Handshake for Every Daughter,” “Black Man Ray,” and “African and White.” This excursion to the Romantic era of Classical music continues on with the syncopated beauty of the midtempo “Down Here on Earth,” which starts demurely with a piano and the bass and then slowly builds up with layers of woodwind, horns, and strings until it becomes a driving beat of a song. Following next is the title track; a slow ballad that may remind the initiated fan of the tranquil atmosphere of “Here Comes a Raincloud,” from 1983’s Working with Fire and Steel.
Another piano-led song, “Because My Heart” has that Country-like flavor, owing to the incorporation of a pedal steel guitar and an accordion among other ingredients associated with the genre. This mood slides smoothly into the equally introspective “Bernard,” whose reassuring lyrics is adorned with a delightful woodwind section. “Nothing changes how we feel / And say goodbye / We are all here by your side / Surrender to the blinding light.”
With “Joy and the Spark” and “Being in Love,” the listener will find China Crisis once again in its shimmering, Soul-infused Sophistipop disposition, where Daly’s distinct silky voice subtly soars. Both tracks will fit seamlessly on a playlist that includes Prefab Sprout’s “We Let the Stars Go,” Frazier Chorus’ “Dream Kitchen,” The Blue Nile’s “Tinseltown in the Rain,” The Bible’s “Skywriting,” and even Depeche Mode’s “It Doesn’t Matter.” The slightly upbeat and infectious “Fool,” on the other hand, features an easily hummable chorus that may remind a New Wave enthusiast of the song “Lucky You” by The Lightning Seeds. Its best part, however, is the memorable electric-guitar adlib in the mid-song interlude and the coda that may generate images of Aztec Camera’s Roddy Frame while rendering his intricate chordal guitar licks; think of “All I Need Is Everything,” and the vibe is on the right track.
The duo’s fondness for syncopation grooves again in the gracefully gliding, simple swooner “My Sweet Delight.” The listener is then hushed further into silent pondering by the near-instrumental “Tell Tale Signs.” Finally, the album closes aptly with the minimalist approach of “Wonderful New World,” which is powered, effectively, by “you and me” and almost nothing more but an acoustic guitar, a pedal steel guitar, and the plaintive voice that sounds like it was being sung with eyes closed. Oddly, this last song somehow exudes a poignancy comparable to some of the stripped-down songs of Suede, those that catches its vocalist Brett Anderson in his most soul-baring moments, such as “Still Life,” for instance.
Overall, Autumn in the Neighbourhood is a good mix of the non-Punk New Wave sound of early China Crisis albums, the more Sophistipop-oriented sensibilities of the band’s latter works, and a bit of other pleasantly surprising unlikely influences. Considering this styling, it is doubtless a positive addition to the musical legacy of China Crisis. The only negative issue about it is its being hard to find. After all, it was released independently so its distribution was quite limited. Now, if only China Crisis will make it available to a wider market, then Winter days would be more bearable for those who failed to get their hands on copies of the album’s initial run during the Summer.
Barring this little inconvenience, Autumn in the Neighbourhood is a breeze of fresh but familiar music. It is indeed another classic in the making from the guys who gifted the New Wave genre with beautifully worded and melodic songs like “Some People I Know to Lead Fantastic Lives,” “Wishful Thinking,” “King in a Catholic Style,” “Best Kept Secret,” “Singing the Praises of Finer Things,” and “Does It Pay?” CrypticRock gives Autumn in the Neighbourhood 4 out of 5 stars.