John Bassett may not be a household name but I’ve come to discover that he is a man of unbridled imagination and creativity. My introduction was two prog rock albums by his band King Bathmat, then earlier this year he released an acoustic album “Unearth” which vividly captures and shares musical worlds which I would associate with John Lennon, Pink Floyd and Steven Wilson.
This album is an instrumental work. I can manage without lyrics and often don’t pay any attention to them anyway, but if I’m honest, I was slightly disappointed because Mr Bassett is a wordsmith of Alan Bennett proportions, delighting me with little gems like “With your certificate, you’re qualified to shovel dirt” on “Unearth”. But instrumental albums can speak for themselves with the right ambience, and I know Mr Bassett is more than capable of that. Without doubt “Arcade Messiah” makes strident statements and has moments of drama but I felt that technique preceded atmosphere here. Mr Bassett talks when describing this album of “a dark, bleak and apocalyptic aura of despair”, “enormous riffs and sorrowful, yet powerful musical refrains”, “unusual time signatures” and “moments of psychedelic calm”. I can relate to all that but I sensed banners and statements over images or story lines. This said, each track is like a welcome breeze. “Sun Exile” starts us off with a colourful rock riff. Its haughtily high range suggests we’re going to other places. It has the feel of an accompaniment to a dramatic film. Built in layers, it’s full of motion and drive. By contrast “Your Best Line of Defence is Obscurity” is more measured and less frenetic. Its guitar led but the drum is prominent. It’s expansive and again has an imperious quality like Zero Hour in its loftiness. I found myself being distracted by its technical excellence. “Traumascope” is dark and shadowy with a groovy pattern but again it’s like an advanced music lesson. Spooky whistling winds feature on “Aftermath”, which is like a cameo. It’s interesting and is followed by the luxurious “Everyone Eating Everyone Else”. There’s a lot of the sound of Katatonia in the dark driving force, and the track has great drama and fluidity.
My mind kept wandering to the question “what’s missing?” “The Most Popular Form of Escape” gave me part of the answer. It’s pleasant enough to listen to, has a strong riff and gets 10 out of 10 in the technical ability department. But it doesn’t captivate the soul, not mine anyway, and I even found it a bit cold and stand-offish. “Roman Resolution”, which brings the album to an end, is slow and more drawn out, but it has personality. Yet I still found it difficult to get wrapped up in it before it comes to a dead end.
Mr Bassett’s previous works are hazier and more ethereal yet planted in everyday life. I don’t think the lack of magnetism here was entirely about the absence of lyrics. “Arcade Messiah” is technically fine but I found it was more prone to stark statements than impressions which weave their way into the listener’s mind. I confess that I had more fun re-listening to the sublime “Unearth” than I did listening to Mr Bassett’s latest work. This album does have a tangible soul but for me it was lacking in mystery and intrigue.
(6.5/10 Andrew Doherty)