Forever the wordsmith, Tim Bowness has been crooning over a wide splattering of genres now for more than two decades. Bowness will forever be best known for No-Man, his long running – but now sadly dormant –collaboration with prog rock superstar Steven Wilson. Having said that, Stupid Things That Mean the World, the eagerly anticipated follow-up to last years Abandoned Dance Hall Dreams, demonstrates clearly and concisely that Bowness has more than enough songwriting competence to produce excellent records on his own.
Despite journeying the trip-hop, alt pop and art rock pathways that so often spread far out into the ether, it’s in his solo work that Bowness truly runs the gamut, and demonstrates his own inimitable style. Stupid Things That Mean the World explores territories old, new and in every place in-between. The album oozes with a style that his longtime listeners will instantly recognise. To say it keeps interest would be the vastest of vast understatements. All the genre-hopping over his career has given Bowness a very particular signature and sound. His syrupy sweet voice is the obvious indicator, always gliding so so softly across the aural coastlines with somber coloured ease; he sings half remembered dreams with a kind of objectivity, or the just-barely-aloof candour and sensibility of someone freshly put together after things went awry.
This signature, though, extends way beyond and into the depths of the music all around him; even in the bombastic rock of The Great Electric Teenage Dream and Press Reset – a genre his voice doesn’t often decorate – a clear and concise line can be drawn all the way back to the first dance pop singles of No-Man. If anyone needed any proof that No-Man was more than just another whim of acclaimed producer Wilson, it’s the confidence and grace that Bowness exudes on this record.
Backed by some of the finest players on the prog music scene – from guitarist Pat Mastelotto’s quirky rhythms, and another long time Steven Wilson collaborator, Porcupine Tree’s Colin Edwin’s silky bass tones, to the guitar playing from The Pineapple Thief’s Bruce Soord. Bowness surges out in all directions from the movement begun on last year’s solo record, Abandoned Dancehall Dreams, refining and polishing as he goes.
The opening track The Great Electric Teenage Dream, feels more than anything else on the album, like a direct continuation of Abandoned Dancehall Dreams, retaining as it does the vaguely claustrophobic feel of that album’s opener, The Warm Up Man Forever.
Moving swiftly from its vaguely ominous opening, it soon provides a pleasing early rush of intensity, with Bowness seemingly railing against the death of the musicians dream, with pointed references to the digitisation of music included. This is followed by two extremely pretty, if slightly fragile tracks in the shape of an old No-Man excerpt, Sing to Me, and Where You’ve Always Been, both of which reference the old English folk tradition with their acoustic guitars and quaint pastoral melodies.
The title track, however hints at Wild Opera-era No-Man, with its funky bass line and choppy guitar parts being a world away from the minimal, gentle folk feel of the previous two tracks. What is particularly impressive by this point, four tracks in, is that Bowness is determined to continue with the diversity on show on his previous releases, rather than reining things in to a predictable pattern that many people fall into. This is further emphasised by the excellent Know That You Were Loved, with its wonderful balance of hazy nostalgia and poignant reflection, and Press Reset, which, paradoxically sounds both oddly contemporary and strangely familiar, this might well be the closest thing Bowness has recorded to a modern alt-rock song.
It’s a shame that a little more wasn’t made of the two very short tracks near the album’s end, that they weren’t allowed to develop and flourish. The captivating penultimate little instrumental Everything But You, a song that incorporates flute, violin and vocal to make quite the impression over its rather brief (a little over one minute long) duration. It would have been interesting to see where this brief snippet of an idea might have led had it been allowed to, hinting as it does at something from previous Bowness penned epics like the last albums’s I Fought Against the South.
The final track, Soft William is a short piano led piece, one that feels like it could have been expanded along the lines of something like Smiler at 50 from Abandoned Dancehall Dreams. The extreme brevity of these two very promising tracks, which are the penultimate pair on an album lacking in lengthy songs, unfortunately contributes to the second half of the record losing some of the potency and stimulation of the first.
Overall, this is a really delightful and very welcome follow-up to last years offering, and one that doesn’t fail to please. An album that clearly demonstrates Tim Bowness’s glorious skills as a lyricist, and his growing confidence as a solo recording artist, and that entails.
‘Stupid Things That Mean the World’ is out now on Inside Out Music