Friday, 1 April 2016

Gilbert Gordon & Sullivan: A Review of a New Musical Extravaganza



 
Prepare yourself to be stunned by the brilliance of this unique and marvellous new album by Martin Gordon: 'Gilbert Gordon & Sullivan', being years in the making, finely crafted over time with great care, which shows in the myriad details and intricacy of this mixture of eccentric Victorian light comic opera in a Pop/Rock setting.  A vibrant new interpretation of a selection of incredible Gilbert and Sullivan songs, true to the original spirit, with some alterations and a great deal of modern oomph stirred in!

Those wary of anything related to Opera needn't fear a thing, for this is instantly accessible music full of charm, humour, and fun (of course there's no operatic warbling here, nor a hint of frock coats or bizarre facial hair).  The previous samplers of song snippets were enticing, but did not present but a fraction of the aural delights within the finished and complete album; as from the start of my first proper listening of the whole of this masterpiece (with headphones on to absorb every detail),  I was in amazement from beginning to end.  There is much to be excited about, for it is a joy, and for new recordings of a Pop/Rock nature to be this good and exuberant is so rare that it makes this an oddity.  'GG&S' is devoid of all the things I detest about contemporary music, yet even with the fanciful 19th century lyrics, it sounds more fresh and timeless than anything you will hear.  Most music seems to have sadly lost valuable characteristics such as individuality and whimsicality, so a treasure such as this must be applauded.

Let us note the fine musicianship on this album.  Joined by Ralf Leeman on guitars, Romain Vicente on drums/percussion (plus others adding tasteful touches of woodwind and brass), Martin played his mighty Rickenbacker bass, piano, organ, melodica, xylophone, kazoo, and sang all the vocals (and arranged, produced and engineered this entire complex album-what an arduous task to mix all these tracks!).  This includes all the many-layered harmonies and lavish choruses (the choruses are very impressive and beautiful), thus becoming an entire rock opera ensemble in himself!  He infuses the songs with personality, incorporating vocal variations and various inflections, as one does when singing Gilbert and Sullivan pieces.  There is a mixture of good straightforward singing and singing more as the characters in the songs, such as with the contrast of the surprisingly high and low vocals on the haunting and compelling 'Go Away, Madam', one of the most astounding songs on the album.

It's impossible for me to choose a favourite song from 'GG&S', all of it is great,  'Make Way For the Wise Men/ In Every Mental Lore' is outstanding (and very clever the way the two songs merge and segue back and forth), but then so is 'Lord High Executioner', "When I Was A Lad', 'Modern Major General', well all of them!  This is a spirited album, with bewildering variety in style and tempo, there's a lot going on and to take in, no dull bits to bore you, yet it refrains from bombarding you, the songs are well chosen; though after imbibing all those jaunty tunes and manly choruses,  you may need a little lie down after listening to it all in one go...


One doesn't have to understand all the references to enjoy this album, but doing so will give more depth to it by experiencing the delight of W.S. Gilbert's witty, satirical lyrics (which usually had a sharp alternative meaning behind the silliness on the surface) combined with Arthur Sullivan's wonderful melodies (qualities always in abundance in Martin Gordon's songwriting).  This album comes housed in a handsome, six-panel CD package, but does not include the lyrics, but they are clearly sung and understood.  Obtaining a book of the librettos with notes explaining all is easily done, for those keen enough to delve into it further and expand their horizons.

Listening to this does have one drawback, and that is that it tends to spoil the listener, as other new recordings tend to pale considerably in comparison (like going from a rich and elaborate gourmet meal to nasty, generic fast food) so be warned and watch out for that!  'Gilbert Gordon & Sullivan' is not only my choice for best album of the year, but this delightful disc has become one of my all-time favourite recordings. 







A sampler of the songs:

'Modern Major General' with lyrics: 

There is also this piece on my book blog, on Gilbert and Sullivan:
http://eclecticbookgatherer.blogspot.com/2015/06/gilbert-and-sullivan-savoy-operas.html
 

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