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Class ?

Main Category: Folk Rock
Also applicable: Pop Rock, Roots Rock
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day



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Year Of Release: 1971
Overall rating = 12

Folk-pop perfection that is a bit too perfect for me.

Best song: FOG ON THE TYNE

Track listing: 1) Meet Me On The Corner; 2) Alright On The Night; 3) Uncle Sam; 4) Together Forever; 5) January Song; 6) Peter Brophy Don't Care; 7) City Song; 8) Passing Ghosts; 9) Train In G Major; 10) Fog On The Tyne; 11) Scotch Mist; 12) No Time To Lose.

This album is goddang beautiful, but I still can't define the exact rating it deserves. Every subsequent listen produces mixed feelings, and just one thing's for certain: this is a really complex case. In 1971, Fog On The Tyne was the true marvel of the day - an album that topped the charts and made many a critically minded head proclaim Lindisfarne as the new Beatles. Today, it is obvious that Lindisfarne were not the new Beatles, and the record itself (just like the band) passed fully and completely out of popular memory. What's the reason?

First, the positive side. Fog On The Tyne is a perfect album in terms of songwriting, production, and adequacy. Twelve folk-pop tunes which mostly follow the general Lindisfarne line - take a nice, but not tremendously outstanding pop melody and arrange it with all the arsenal of Anglo-Saxon folk equipment. All catchy. All perfectly sing-alongish. All based on professional acoustic guitar playing, all arranged as meticulously as possible. Almost all written by the band members, too, specially Alan Hull. All sung by Hull and the others in the most friendly and unpretentious manner, without any operatic howls or Dylanish growls - good, pleasant, human-like vocals (well, occasionally Hull's voice kinda strains on the higher notes, but that's also human of him). Simply put, I can't find any obvious flaws to this material - any selected song and there's your typical hook, there's your typical mood, and there's your typical clever arrangement.

The title track is perhaps the most demonstrative here: a seductive minimalistic acoustic melody, funny folksy lyrics ('sitting in a sleazy snack bar sucking sickly sausage rolls...' is a good start, I think), insanely catchy and attractive chorus, and an instrumental break that's guaranteed to make you smile - with the violin, guitar, and harmonica all joining in for good measure to produce absolute harmonic delight. But like I said, you could take just about any track on here to make you feel good. Even the only instrumental, 'Scotch Mist', something of a cross between basic country and basic Irish jig, is arranged with the uttermost taste and sounds so cute and gentle it'll grip your emotions in a second.

Besides, there's some mood diversity, too, which ensures that it doesn't all sound like just one big song. The album kicks off with 'Meet Me On The Corner', a harmonica-based folksy stomper with a slight air of melancholia and a slight touch of music hall (and a chorus that doesn't at all sound unlike 'Mrs Robinson', but that shouldn't be an accusation - it's just that both songs borrow from the same sources). But then it's immediately followed by 'Alright On The Night', which is a plain old attempt at writing a simple drinkin' song - when the guys go 'it'll be a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ll right, we'll have a drink on the Friday night', it's almost authentic (except they're, uh, a bit too clean to pass off for a bunch of drunken rabble). And then there's 'Uncle Sam', a sincere anti-war song with a two-part melody that actually could serve as an efficient contemporary message rather than just a trendy stylization. And then there's 'Together Forever', a major key shuffle as joyful, friendly and "moderately generic" as possible. And so on. The pleading vocals of 'January Song', the lazy bluesy harmonies of 'Train In G Major', the cheerful bouncy conclusion of 'No Time To Lose'... hell, this is really one hell of a consistent record!

That said, it's also easy to see why the record had been so much overhyped. Simply put, when taken on its own - a nice selection of unambitious folk-pop originals - it's the top of the crop. But if anybody tried to pass this for a blistering musical revelation, well, it's obvious that the anti-hype would soon take over. The songs are different in mood, but that doesn't save from the fact that the album would find too few dedicated fans of its own. For folk purists, Fog On The Tyne would be a near-blasphemy - not only does it contain next to no real old covers (so it's all "fake"!), but it also betrays too much of a Britpop influence to pass as totally sincere imitation; and while the band's musical skills are solid, they have the nerve to not engage in lengthy instrumental meditations like, say, Fairport Convention. For pop purists, Fog On The Tyne would definitely be too monotonous: same harmonies, same instrumentation, same general style on every single track. Even I get a little tired of the acoustic rhythms throughout - the electric guitar is strictly reduced to occasional tiny atmospheric licks in the background.

And finally, for the 'general public' that isn't way too musically-minded this certainly couldn't have replaced the Beatles or any other supergroup of the time. Maybe it did hit # 1 at the time, but the band's subsequent inability to truly expand its vision doomed them as a one-hit wonder. That said, this total oblivion of today seems pretty horrendous to me - there's a whole load of songwriting talent on this record, and its tastefulness and inventiveness are unarguable. Yes, many of these seemingly 'original' melodies can easily be traced back to a whole bunch of folk classics by knowledgeable folk specialists, but then again, you can pretty much blame Led Zeppelin in a similar manner, and those guys don't seem to be on their way out any time soon. Besides, there's no denying these guys' sincerity - Fog On The Tyne isn't just some kind of cheap cash-in or anything like that, it has a real musical vision of its own. And it did hit # 1! Ah, now those were the days, don't you think? Imagine an album like that hitting # 1 in the UK today!


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