Steven Wilson, founder of Porcupine Tree and restless explorer of progressive guitar music, recently blew the cobwebs off The Troxy in London in front of no less than three of the guitar world’s pre-eminent wizards; David Gilmour, Phil Manzanera and Steve Rothery. I mention this because I’ve listened to David Philip’s new album If I Had Wings for the last couple of weeks and Wilson and his peers are the image that continues to pop into my head. Bear with me.
Philips, a musical polymath who’s spent his career to date drinking from the cup of jazz, folk, rock and electronica, wrote, played (almost) all the instruments, recorded and produced If I Had Wings by himself. Apart from the twelve minute Venomous Soul, the music on offer will not remind you of Porcupine Tree, Roxy Music or Marillion, though some of the widescreen pieces may recall late period The Pink Floyd. What is apparent is his ability to marry the often off-putting tendency of virtuoso guitarists to shovel in a few more time signatures and complicated fret (and mind) expanders with the necessary pre-requisite for an album you’ll want to return to again and again; the songs. All of a sudden, the previous comparisons make more sense.
If I Had Wings is, largely, a collection of languid guitar journeys designed to send the listener somewhere warm and safe. There’s no rush, no sense of urgency; Philip’s lovely voice is caught somewhere between Jack Johnson and a fluffy white cloud and his guitar work is nothing less than sublime, especially on the opening two tracks, Up There and Angel. Both benefit from space in the melody and multi-tracked backing vocals, the latter an early foray into the inclusion of Eno-inspired ambient sounds and simple percussion to highlight the sad tale of a love gone south. Suffocate (Drift Away) is similar to Up There, its rolling chorus line completing a very strong opening trio and twenty-two minutes of music that feel like half that in length.
Despite the album being the culmination of eighteen month’s work, there’s no sense of discontinuity, each song knits pleasingly with its predecessor. Hummingbird is closest to the folk genre and whilst it wears its new age cloak a little heavily on the outro’s list of rhetorical questions, Philips pulls the warm tones of the guitar and the electronic backing together into something ethereal. Quiet adds drums to a slow funk riff on a song that wouldn’t be out of place on Michael Kiwanuka’s debut, complete with an extended solo underpinned with LemonJelly keys that takes it in a slow-hand-Hendrix direction before resolving into the original melody. If that sounds like an influence too far, give it time; it’s to Philip’s credit that you don’t see the joins, or indeed worry about the references.
The short instrumental Samuel Saves The World and the blues base of That Dirty World are prequels to the title track, which reverses the refrain from Angel but feels like almost throw-away ahead of the aforementioned Venomous Soul. 12:22 of restrained psych-out (if that’s possible?) that turns on a pin three minutes in with a sax solo and goes on various little journeys of its own before staggering to a conclusion in what can only be described as an Emerson, Lake and Palmer jam in a jazz club. You either love or loathe this stuff (see first paragraph…) and whilst you can’t help but admire the craft, it would be a shame if Venomous Soul was the album’s lodestone simply because of its length – If I Had Wings deserves better. Proof of that arrives with the closing track What Will I Do Without You, a stunningly concise end-of-the-night, bar-is-closing blues that should only be played as the barman wipes the tables and the dawn chorus pipes up. Neither folk nor funk, blues or prog, If I Had Wings is a delicate, sophisticated cocktail of flavours that meet the rim of the glass just so. Stirred, not shaken.
Review by: Paul Woodgate
Out Now via Black & Tan
Order it here.