Newton Faulkner: Hand Built by Robots
The Concept Album, for the information of anyone too young to remember its heyday, was a record in which the songs were somehow linked in that they perhaps told a story, had a particular theme, carried a particular mood throughout, or hung together in a more abstract way such as giving the impression that the artist was engaged in a, sometimes undefined, journey which had a beginning and end however vague. Good examples might be Jethro Tull’s ‘Aqualung’, Dylan’s ‘Blood on the Tracks’, Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of the Worlds’, Van der Graaf Generator’s ‘Still Life’ and of course ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band’.
To some people ‘Concept Album’ is a contemptible phrase. It signifies one aspect of the height of the pretentiousness that purportedly existed in British Rock/Pop in the mid-seventies and that Punk was supposedly reacting to. To others - and I include myself here - it represents part of the peak of achievement in recording history which was attained by the chain of events kicked off by the arrival of Elvis and Bill Haley, accelerated by the Beatles, Dylan et al, the whole atmosphere generated by the Cold War, the spread of Mass Communications, the Space Race, the Civil Rights Movement and all the rest of that Sixties Phenomenon, which is now, in equal proportions, either sadly missed or vehemently derided depending on one’s political standpoint.
Either way, the Concept Album is now largely an icon of the past. There have been brave attempts, intentional or not, over the years to revive that tradition. I’m thinking of Jilted John’s ‘True Love Stories’, Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’, and The Streets’ ‘A Grand don’t Come for Free’ as worthy examples. But generally, in these days of CDs and downloads, albums are little more than a collection of random songs thrown together with no particular reason in mind other than filling 70 minutes to justify inveigling a tenner or more from the poor punter’s pocket.
It always excites me therefore to pick up a new release that has the words ‘Concept Album’ screaming out from every aspect. The title and cover artwork are often the first clues. The existence of an identifiable introduction to the music comes next. Then we have the seemingly natural progression of songs – one flows after another with seamless ease and moves inexorably to an almost obvious conclusion, which leaves one feeling satisfied and replete – as if one had just eaten the perfect five course meal.
Such was my reaction to Newton Faulkner’s ‘Hand Built by Robots’. The beautiful cover cries out for attention and the witty title is so intelligent that one feels interesting material just has to be contained therein. And it’s true. Newton has an easy way with his voice and guitar that make you join in the flow of the album and automatically pick up the words and emotions. When I reviewed the single ‘Dream Catch Me’ a couple of weeks ago I suggested then that the song was somewhat anthemic and placed in the context of the album the effect is magnified and it sounds even better.
Now my regular readers will know that I’m not a great fan of the simple singer-songwriter genre of music but Newton Faulkner’s efforts somehow step beyond the ordinary and bring this album into areas that I find much more appealing. I find myself imagining orchestral versions of some of the songs and the filmic possibilities they raise – I generally think video does little to enhance music, but some music leads naturally to visual representation – this is one such piece. Thus having cut across 2 of my greatest taboos, I think Newton Faulkner has earned himself a place in my list of artists worth keeping an eye on in the hope of great things to come.