When the five Soul boys of Spandau Ballet reunited in 2009, after the band’s being in dormancy for almost two decades, millions of their followers all over the world went teary-eyed crazy. The successful “Reformation” tour ensued, revitalizing them and their music to new levels. However, in 2017, vocalist Tony Hadley left the band–for good, he said–and resumed his solo career. It stalled the group and broke the hearts of their fans once again.
Amidst all the heartaches, Lead Guitarist and Chief Songwriter Gary Kemp channeled his musical spirits into writing on his own again. It must be remembered that in 1995, while Spandau Ballet was on a hiatus, he released the little-noticed but critically acclaimed solo album Little Bruises in 1995, which rendered Blue-eyed Sophistipop masterpieces worth revisiting such as “Standing in Line (Still the Point),” “An Inexperienced Man,” and “My Lady Soul.”
Now, still fresh from another breakup of his erstwhile band–but with 25 years’ worth of experience since his first solo offering, including his current stint as a guitar player and backing vocalist for the Pink Floyd tribute band Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets–Kemp mustered his muses to put his lyrical pen into action and his guitar and composer’s hat in motion, with a little help from Guy Pratt (bass), his fellow frontman in Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets; Richard Jones (additional bass); brother and Spandau Ballet bandmate, Martin Kemp (additional bass); Ash Soan (drums); Ged Lynch (drums); Queen’s Roger Taylor (additional drums); Matt Clifford (French horn); Theo Travis (saxophone); Lily Carassik (trumpet); and Lee Harris (lap steel guitar).
From Islington, London, England, Kemp unleashed his second album, Insolo, on Friday, July 16, 2021, via Columbia Records. It opens with the epic, piano-led title track, immediately setting the mood of the album’s entirety–heartrending, inspired, and introspective. “A Rumour of You” then follows seamlessly with its soulful Sophistipop sheen. And then there is “Waiting for the Band,” which may be regarded as Kemp’s thinly-veiled open letter to his Spandau Ballet comrades.
In Insolo‘s first single, “Ahead of the Game,” Kemp exudes vibrancy, confidence, and subtle guitar funkiness; and then reverts again to his Blue-eyed tendencies as he dishes out the poignant and lounge-worthy “I Remember You.” Following next is the second single, “Too Much,” in which Kemp’s vocals and guitar ad-lib soar confidently on a backdrop of string orchestration.
The upbeat and aptly titled “The Fastest Man in the World” is a change of pace; a sure highlight, it is an inevitable blend of Pop Rock and Progressive Light. The well-woven soft ballad “I Am the Past,” another lyrically nostalgic affair, then gracefully swings. Kemp then takes the listener back to the musicality of his 1995 debut, as he launches into the gallop and pulses of the majestic “The Feet of Mercury,” which will remind the initiated of the aforementioned album’s carrier, “Standing in Love.”
The penultimate “The Haunted” is the other six-minute track, which hauntingly plucks its way through the melodramatic listener’s barricade of hopes, thoughts, and dreams. Finally, Kemp wraps up his long overdue sophomore solo with the semi-acoustic/semi-orchestral “Our Light”–a perfect closer to a soul-baring, personal sonic postcard.
The quarter-of-a-century gap between Little Bruises and Insolo is worth the wait, proving that Kemp’s songwriting passion–introduced to the world at large as early as Spandau Ballet’s New Romantic beginnings, in the advent of the ’80s–has always been forefront. Insolo is youthful and mature, fresh and familiar at the same time; truly at home and straight from the heart. For this, Cryptic Rock gives it 5 out of 5 stars.
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