'HE WROTE with skill in an age that distrusted directness, which makes him a good model for current toilers in Tin Pan Alley - trying to write with directness in an age that distrusts skill.' That was Clive James on the subject of Cole Porter and, as the author of all Pete Atkin's lyrics, he is well placed for making the observation. By which I mean that he is probably the only modern lyricist with the kind of fascination with words that the Broadway men had. Fascination, that is, not in the sense of besotted superabundance, but of the kind that tends towards exactness and wit.
Consider this, from a song with the self-explanatory title of 'Screen Freak'; 'I've seen the plywood cities meet their doom because of dames / Atlantis down in bubbles and Atlanta up in flames.' What makes it delightful is the affection contained in the joke, but when you look at it closely you see that the effect of self-mocking humour is achieved by subtle alliteration (doom/dames), the absolute opposition contained in the Atlantis/Atlanta line (up/down, water/fire) and a subtle variety in degrees of seriousness. (Atlantis' bubbles suggests hokum, while the Atlanta sequence in Gone With The Wind is altogether a more weighty affair).
I suppose the foregoing will qualify me to join Mr. James in Pseuds' Corner, but how else is one to convey an appreciation of skill if not by looking at a sample of it?
If I hadn't known Clive James to be a fan of the Broadway writers I could have guessed it from any of these eleven songs. Very often they remind me of Lorenz Hart or the Cole Porter of 'Which'. (Which is the right man / Walt Whitman or Paul Whiteman?) If I have one regret it is for the absence of a wry little song like 'The Flowers And The Wine' which appeared on the last album and which has become, I think, my favourite of the lot.
Pete Atkin's tunes are curious. They're instantly recognisable as his, although they're by no means identical. Unless, that is, you count a tendency for melodic phrases to start with several repetitions of a single note. Personally I find that they stick, not just the melody, but the overall sound of the arrangement. And that, I take it, is what's supposed to happen. The almost-banal waltz of 'Screen Freak' is clinging like a burr already, and the sidelong parody of rock backings in 'Apparition In Las Vegas' is delicious. The recording and arranging is a great improvement on the last album and the playing (apart from a bit of dodgy intonation in the woodwind) perfect.
You will have gathered that I am somewhat partial to Pete Atkin and Clive James. I look forward to their albums with impatience and I hope that RCA do a better job of promotion than Philips managed. That shouldn't be difficult.
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