Phil Lanzon’s last solo album, If You Think I’m Crazy, was one of those surprise albums that makes this ‘job’ worth doing. Chock full of superbly crafted songs, highlighting Lanzon not just as a master keyboardist but as a songwriter and vocalist of some stature too, it really was one of the highlights of 2018. Gratifyingly he’s not let any moss gather under himself since then, and he’s back, eighteen months later with, hopefully, more of the same.
Well, broadly he is. Whilst there may be nothing here that quite hits the heights of IYTIC’s Mind Over Matter or the titanic Donna & Joe, there is still plenty for discerning music lovers to get their teeth into. After an opening overture, Azuras Theme, which goes from Elgar and Vaughan Williams to Jeff Wayne in a single, classy bound, Lanzon settles into his default style – classy, well put together hard rock – straight away in the form of In The Rain, which brings to mind eighties names like Go West and Nik Kershaw as it marries slick musicianship and radio-bothering refrains with a cavalier, carefree feel that can’t fail to be anything but irresistible.
Forty Line is straight outta England’s tin pan alley, Denmark Street, all stop-start rhythms and the sort of swelling, orchestrated horns last seen attaching themselves to the theme tune of a late sixties, early seventies TV variety show. Lanzon’s close musical relatives Cats In Space might see this as a brazen raid on territory they’ve made their own over the last couple of years; but surely there’s room for more than one seventies revival artist, especially when the revival is as vital and beautifully executed as this. Whatever, this is truly outstanding music.
Rock N Roll Children, is, as it’s name suggests, a straight up rock n’roller, albeit one that again carries a huge whiff of early seventies London. Think Hair, think Godspell… it’s all done in the best possible taste, and even though the expected invasion of your mind by the Nigel Lythgoe Dancers never quite eventuates, the song is so incredibly evocative of a time and place as to fuse it in the minds eye to actual contemporary times and places… again, this is remarkable song craft.
The key to the success of Lanzon’s songwriting is undoubtedly his kitchen sink approach to song arrangement in tandem with producer Simon Hanhart and co-producer Richard Cottle. Blue Mountain, in it’s barest form, is a straight up piece of wistful balladeering, no better or worse than many a song of it’s style. Yet once Lanzon, with his arranger’s hat at a jaunty angle, natch, adds sumptuous strings, massed backing vocals and another in the series of heart-swelling orchestrations that this album possesses – not to mention the deployment of the album’s best guitar solo – you’re faced with a mini epic that attempts and achieves more in five and a bit minutes than many artists might think seemly to cover over the space of a couple of albums. But it works. Never once does this approach result in cluttered cacophony. Impossible to believe maybe, but an incontrovertible truth nonetheless.
The proggy Look At The Time pales a little by comparison, sounding lyrically and musically like Asia at their glummest, whilst the relatively sparse Road To London, despite it’s compelling tale told by Lanzon himself, also suffers a little simply due to it’s simplicity. But this slight momentum loss doesn’t last long; You Can Make a Living rocks things up nicely, and it’s the only song on the album that you could imagine Lanzon playing in his day job as Uriah Heep’s keyboardist… chunky riffage, bubbling organ work, and another storming solo all make for a rollicking good listen, and it’s nice to see that out and out hard rock very much occupies a place close to Phil’s heart.
Penultimate track Face To Face is a heartfelt cri de cœur for the human race, couched as a piece of mid-seventies pomp rock a la John Miles or Alan Parsons, building from quiet, simple beginnings to another controlled maelstrom of Hammond, massed choirs and yet more swirling strings. This might actually be a nice way to end the album, but Mr Lanzon has other, bigger ideas…
…He’s chosen to close the album with the title track, a piece of musical theatre which sets out to document at a personal level the effects of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It’s an unequivocal success, as the track weaves through nine minutes of moods, colour and drama at a breathtaking pace. Tempos and intensity ebb and flow, the urgency of Neal Wilkinson’s drumming accentuating the events as nature brings man to his knees. And here come those mind dancers again, midway through the song as Lanzon wigs out on the Hammond…
I’m sitting, now, after the final notes die away, reflecting on what I’ve just heard. I cannot actually think of a single artist currently extant who would dare release 48 Seconds as an album, let alone succeed so totally in it’s execution. ‘They’ don’t make music like this anymore, so thank the maker that Phil Lanzon is taking the time and effort to make pieces of music as downright effective and affecting as this. Superb stuff.
48 Seconds is out on August 2nd.