Friday, 11 January 2019

Al Stewart - Time Passages (1978)


Released November 1978

Released at the height of punk/new wave, in late 1978, this culturally incongruous album is actually, in retrospect, an excellent one. It was the follow up to the highly successful "Year Of the Cat" and if anything, is slightly more polished, in that soft-rock style that Stewart had now become synonymous with. The early late sixties/early seventies folky days were now long gone. Stewart's songs have become dignified, sensitive and grandiose in an understated way, if that does not sound too oxymoronic. It is all very dreamy, elegant and classy. Perfect dinner-party background music, but containing hidden depths too, if listened to with full concentration. Every song actually sounds like a mini-epic in its own way.


1. Time Passages
2. Valentina Way
3. Life In Dark Water
4. A Man For All Seasons
5. Almost Lucy
6. The Palace Of Versailles
7. Timeless Skies
8. Song On The Radio
9. End Of The Day                            

The title track is superbly lush, with a winsome vocal/melody and some sumptuous tenor saxophone. Of its type, it is a most impressive composition. "Valentina Way" is an upbeat, rocky number, with hints of Wings about it. It is all very West Coast AOR, however, and hardly de rigeur for 1978. It is far more Chris De Burgh than The Clash or the Jam, both of whom put out new albums in the same month. Their audience was not Al Stewart's, however. This was very much adult, respectable music, without any any contemporary concerns. Taking its chronological cultural position aside, it sounds a far better album now than it ever did in 1978, when I despised it.

"Life In Dark Water" is a solemn, slow-paced but streamlined and elegant rock song, full of airy guitar and crystal clear percussion. It is even a bit prog-rock in style, something Stewart has always had in his locker. It also has echoes of Supertramp in it, for me. "A Man For All Seasons" has a feeling of the "Year Of The Cat" material. It is a melodic, appealing and serious song, with lyrical hints of Jackson Browne. It features historical references to Henry VIII and Thomas More. It sounds very mid-seventies to me, as if from a few years earlier. It is a close to an epic as Al Stewart gets.

"Almost Lucy" is an upbeat, rhythmic and catchy, vaguely Latin-influenced number with more of Stewart's mysterious and interested character-driven lyrics. "The Palace Of Versailles" is a suitably grandiose. It is another historical song, this time about the French Revolution. It is a bit Elton John-sounding in places. "Timeless Skies" is a thoughtful, gentle rock ballad. "Song On The Radio" is a perfect slice of saxophone-powered AOR. "End Of The Day" has hints of America's "Ventura Highway" in its acoustic intro, just for a split second. It is a tranquil, suitably "sundown" in ambience number to end this tasteful album on. A classy as all the album has been.


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