After much deliberation, writing out of lists when I was supposed to be doing actual paid employment-related shenanigans, trying to look all organised by tapping out a spreadsheet and then forgetting to save it, throwing everything away and starting again, and finally making it up as I went along, my choice for my Number One favourite record of 2012 was the one at the top of the very first list after all. After picking my way through 49 other things and being able to pinpoint the exact justification for it being where it was, it’s probably fitting that the overriding reason for having this at the top of the pile is a succinct “dunno really”, before putting it on again.
It’s been a bit of a madness this past 6 weeks where I’ve crammed in over 50 albums over and over again (as there were a few that didn’t make the final list) while tapping this out, reorganising and generally wailing at the world in general, and to be honest it will be nice to give my brain a couple of fallow days before starting all over again. I can’t honestly think of a better way to finish this Top Fifty off than this record, something that has all of those undefinable “this is how all records should be made” elements in the right amounts and in the right order, and one that never fails to move me whatever mood I happen to be in whenever I start listening to it.
It’s always a bit of a gamble when a band reinvents itself to any degree, but this doesn’t ever seem to be something that has ever bothered Ian Glover and Rich Machin of the Soulsavers; in fact, this is something that they seem to look forward to doing. After firmly re-establishing themselves with their 2nd and 3rd albums with Mark Lanegan at the helm (after featuring Spain’s Josh Haden on their debut), this new album sees another turn for the production duo’s assembled collective, refining their craft and sharpening their focus, thanks in no small part to the new guy at the microphone, Depeche Mode’s David Gahan. Where Lanegan’s lyrics took the Soulsavers on a fantastical journey that left his feelings fairly well-hidden (alongside co-vocalist Red Ghost, his spiritual alter ego and co-vocalist in Broken’s 3-act drama), Gahan holds his cards right in front of you from the start, drawing you into his tale and not sparing delicate constitutions while he’s about it. Also different to previous releases is that this is very much its own record – the album’s title aside (a Frank Stanford poem), there are no obvious cinematic or literary cues in the songs’ names or contents. All that seems to be influencing the Soulsavers here are themselves, and they have learned from themselves admirably.
It’s safe to say that The Light The Dead See is an album made by people who love albums, which is something of a rarity nowadays. It’s meant to be played from the start, turned over halfway through, and breathed in and understood until it’s finished. And, like perennial Christmas weepie It’s A Wonderful Life, if you duck out of it halfway through you’ll think you’ve witnessed someone’s terrible destruction, as the salvation, redemption and ascension doesn’t take place until the very end. Gahan puts himself through the wringer right from the start, imploring his audience “Why can’t you hear me? Why don’t you heal me? I am lost here” in his first song, an incredibly dramatic piece that could end less expressive records rather than sit on track two as it does here.
Musically, The Light The Dead See takes its cues from the larger pieces from Broken – the orchestral scope is huge throughout, providing stage, illumination and supporting cast to Gahan’s angry, fearful wanderings. Yet central to these overarching arrangements is an intimate band anchoring the heart of the album and giving the listener (and vocalist) something to cling to, working at its very best during Presence Of God, where the strings wrap themselves seductively around an acoustic guitar while David gives the best vocal performance in the whole set. And when Gahan steps aside so that Ian and Rich get to show the world how good they’re getting at the whole orchestral malarkey with another two instrumental pieces, the opening La Ribera and the intermission of Point Sur Pt.1, both sadly short in length but huge in scope and doing their CVs no harm at all to the point that a decent-sized film project surely can’t be that far off.
There are lifts along the way to temporarily alleviate (and also emphasise) the downward trajectory - Just Try is a beautiful Spiritualizedesque gospel piece, and Take Me Home for its wistful nostalgia has good memories to carry it - but it’s not really until the final two tracks when fortunes turn and the skies brighten, even if Take has the curious uplifting catharsis as Pink Floyd’s The Trial, further illustrating that the road to salvation comes from self-actualisation (according to the internet, anyway). And if the unadorned band get-together of Tonight wasn’t so joyously noisy, you could probably hear the little bell on their communal Christmas tree tinkling quietly away to itself, as this record, this year and this sodding list finally comes to a close. Thanks to everyone who’s made something great to listen to this year, and special thanks to the Soulsavers and Dave Gahan for coming up with this redemptive masterpiece, fit for listening to (as their Twin Peaks lodge-invoking LP and CD covers would suggest) both in the light and in the dark, as the end result remains the exhilarating same.