Tentative Review #38

Tony Banks

(released 1986)

1. Shortcut To Somewhere****
2. Smilin' Jack Casey****
3. Quicksilver Suite****
   (i) Rebirth***1/2
   (ii) Gypsy****1/2
   (iii) Final Chase****
4. You Call This Victory**
5. Lion Of Symmetry*****
6. Redwing Suite****1/2
   (i) Redwing*****
   (ii) Lorca****1/2
   (iii) Kid And Detective Droid****
   (iv) Lift Off*****
   (v) Death Of Abby****



All tracks by Tony Banks, except "Shortcut To Somewhere" (Banks/Fish), "You Call This Victory" (Banks/Diamond), and "Lion Of Symmetry (Banks/Willcox)

"Shortcut To Somewhere", "Smilin' Jack Casey" and "Quicksilver Suite" were used in the movie "Quicksilver. "You Call This Victory", "Lion Of Symmetry", and "Redwing Suite" were used in the movie, "Lorca And The Droids".


This seems a rather unlikely candidate for an artistically successful album. Between 1983 and 1986, Tony Banks became interested in soundtrack work; this release, along with The Wicked Lady (1983), represents the officially released documentation of this period. While some might suggest that Banks is a natural candidate for this role, others might point to the low (perhaps abysmal) nature of the films in question, and suggest that no decent album could possibly be culled from their musical accompaniment. By most accounts, "Quicksilver" and "Lorca And The Droids" were not exactly Oscar material; given that Banks had previously been slated to create the music for 2010 during this period, one might be inclined to look upon his actual contracting with some degree of pity, and suspect that his musical creations would necessarily be of a lower order.

For whatever reason, though, Soundtracks is actually a fairly good album, and an underrated high point in Banks's solo career. This album ranks with The Fugitive as Banks's most successful venture apart from Genesis (with A Curious Feeling close behind); certainly, he hasn't released anything this good since then. By focusing primarily on instrumental tracks, Banks is able to avoid falling into the traps of hackneyed pop songwriting which he sometimes succumbs to on the Bankstatement, Still, and Strictly Inc. projects; by getting Fish and Toyah Willcox as his singers, moreover, he's able to ensure that the vocal performances on the album aren't simply cookie-cutter jobs made by hack sessioners (the exception, Jim Diamond, will be discussed below).

The "Quicksilver" tracks were released on an EP before the release of the album (in 1985, to be precise). It was from this release that Banks's only (minor) hit single outside of Genesis was taken. "Shortcut To Somewhere" was his first, somewhat inevitable duet with Fish, giving real credence to suggestions of a link between Genesis and Marillion -- the jacket for the single release, featuring Banks and Fish wearing Marillion and Genesis t-shirts, respectively, remains a treasure to some fans of both groups to this day. This track, issued as "Tony Banks & Fish" managed to make about #75 on the British charts during the height of Marillion's popularity.

Although not usually thought that highly of by Marillion fans, this is actually a fairly good single. It's high rating is given not primarily for Banks, who does little other than provide a catchy poppish melody and rhythm for the song (good though these are, they would only merit a " * * * " rating on their own). Rather, Fish's urgent vocal performance and astute lyrics are responsible for pushing the song into higher territory (Marillion fans take note: the "skyline drifters" reference on the inside cover of Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors is taken from this song). The Rothery-esque guitar line should also be noted. The fact that this track only made the lower rungs of the charts at a time when "Sussudio" was a major hit might well be thought of as a serious injustice.

"Smilin' Jack Casey" is a rather different work, featuring a moody melodic line underneath a powerful lead keyboard riff; while this may sound rather outdated today in terms of technology, its musical value is still fairly high, and Banks's playing skills are as good as ever. This song also features the first appearance of a haunting melody which occurs throughout the album, and which would have been quite appropriate on Wind & Wuthering-era Genesis recordings. The primary "riff" eventually returns at the end of the song, of course.

"Quicksilver Suite" is somewhat uneven, but is generally a fairly good work as well. "Rebirth" begins with the aforementioned haunting melody, here presented in a higher range and with a slower tempo. Unfortunately, the track then shifts to a more generic poppish work (recycling the music for "Shortcut To Somewhere"), and falls dangerously close to the category of "typical movie music". The latter section also goes on a bit too long. Without the intro, this section would receive rating. "Gypsy", by contrast, is actually a rather interesting track -- with its low, almost "groove"-like rhythms, distortion, and eerie melody, this could almost be referred to as a proto-dub creation. "Final Chase" ends the trilogy on a poppier note, again based on the "Shortcut" theme, but with a few darker sections added as well (not to mention a cryptic return of the original melody before the track ends). "Rebirth" could have used some trimming, and "Gypsy" could have used some extension, but this still serves as a fairly successful track.

"You Call This Victory" should have been left off the album. This track, though not without some decent moments on Banks's side, suffers from the singing of Jim Diamond, which somehow manages to be both bland and offensive at the same time (the cliched introduction to the track doesn't really help matters either). This track, sadly, would prove to be part of a recurring them in Banks's career: a mediocre singer is combined with a half-written song in a lacklustre attempt to court the pop charts. This was the songwriting formula which ruined most of Bankstatement, and it ruins this song as well (with a bit more effort and a better singer, though, this actually could have been something worthwhile).

"Lion Of Symmetry" is the unheralded treasure of the album, a dark, sultry track which makes full use of Toyah Willcox's vocal abilities. Banks is in top form on this track, in both the bass-heavy introduction and the mid-range main melodic motif (the keyboards in the "a return to the wild" section of the song are quite good as well, and the additional percussion at the ending section of the song is nothing short of classic. It's possible that this obscure recording is Toyah's greatest moment thus far -- her voice, whatever its limitations, works perfectly with the gradual development on intensity in this track. A rare triumph.

The album closes with "Redwing Suite", a generally successful venture which contains a few forays into modern classical composition (or, perhaps more correctly, traditional classical composition in a modern context). "Redwing" is perhaps the highlight of the song; commencing with a sound obviously meant to represent the song of the titular creature, the work which develops is a work which combines dark, mournful sections with more lighthearted passages which seem to be deliberately ironic (and which obviously represent the redwing's separation from the world around him). The first statement of the main theme reveals in to be a gently dark, somewhat baroque statement; the addition of a cello sound was a nice touch as well. A strangely affecting piece.

"Lorca" is the instrumental version of "Queen Of Darkness", a song which would later appear on the Bankstatement album. The strange percussion and string section add quite well to the already powerful melody of the piece -- the return of the "Quicksilver" theme [!] was a decent moment as well. "Kid And Detective Droid" presents the return of the main "Redwing" theme in a troubled state; more synth-strings appear in this track, and its classical tendencies are once again used in a fairly effective manner.

The last two tracks are equally good. "Lift Off" is a cathedral styled piece, complete with a full organ sound (along with occasional interpolations of vocoder effects) -- this is a very good composition, both for its general structure and for its melody. "Death Of Abby", as the title implies, is a much darker work, which sees the main theme return only to be resolved on a dark, unsettling note. In sum, the work is a triumph.

Soundtracks may not be appropriate for all fans of early Genesis, but it is a more fitting successor to the Gabriel-era legacy than Invisible Touch, which was released around the time. Some Genesis fans are cautioned that the work may not be to their liking, and some others may have the '80s technology used on the album somewhat dated -- otherwise, this album is recommended to all those interested in Genesis's recorded output.

The Christopher Currie

(review originally posted to alt.music.yes on 10 September 1997)

[ Tentative reviews home | index by artist | Previous | Next ]