Sad Lovers and Giants – mini reviews

These are mini-reviews of each of Sad Lovers and Giants’ record I originally posted to the site Rate Your Music.

Epic Garden Music

The re-release has seven more tracks than the original vinyl album, and what seven glorious tracks they are. It begins with the transcendent Imagination which is frankly, one of the best things I’ve heard. Chiming keyboards, a steady beat, accusatory yet wistful lyrics sung in a clear tenor. Imagination was re-recorded for their next record and that version is slightly different, just a little less driving.

Of our starting new seven, When I See You and Things We Never Did are just brilliant, especially the latter with its saxophone. Colourless Dream and Lost in a Moment aren’t that far behind either.

Echoplay, Clocktower Lodge and Clint are shatteringly marvellous tracks, notably the last with its piping keyboards and the album closer Far From the Sea ends things on a vibrantly eerie note.

Really, this is post-punk at its most playful and melodic. There’s doom and gloom here, mostly in the lyrics, but it’s wrapped in such sparkling music, it hands it to you gently, velvet gloved.

The original eight track vinyl release was good, and if you’ve only heard that, you’re doing your ears a disservice. This is the definitive release of Epic Garden Music and should be the one any post-punk aficionado gets their mitts on. A wonderful record and a key member of the post-punk canon.

Choice tracks: Clint, Imagination, Things We Never Did, The Tightrope Touch.

Feeding the Flame

Doesn’t hold a candle to Epic Garden Music. This record drifts and meanders too much, miring itself in a lot of formless somnolence. It’s possibly the band’s attempt to broaden horizons, strengthen their songwriting and so on, but it’s easy to see why half of them left to form The Snake Corps. SL&G’s tendency to remake songs as sequels starts here with Closer to the Sea, which is a pallid remix of Epic Garden Music’s fine Far from the Sea. Yet, it ends up being one of the greater tracks on this record.

Too dreamy and shapeless to be truly effective.

Choice cuts: Man of Straw, In Flux, Close to the Sea

The Mirror Test

A slightly more focused effort than Feeding the Flame, though the record does veer uncomfortably into pseudo adult contemporary territory on occasion. There’s a tendency to lapse into a melodic rut too, as if SL&G have found their niche as an elder statesman of dreamy post-punk, even though this is their third album.

Interestingly, this record was made after half the band left to form The Snake Corps, though the basic sound that SL&G have created did not suffer for that upheaval. It’s business as usual, though you wish things were a little tighter, and a little less lusher, for want of a better term.

This bonus track album features one of their better instrumentals in the oddly mystical Ours to Kill, and one of the more catching of their “lusher” tracks in Life Under Glass. Other highlights include the driving White Russians, Seven Kinds of Sin, and the reflective Return to Clocktower Lodge.

Headland

Headland finds SL&G in dream territory, a shifting land that’d occupy them for the next two records. What this means is the music is reflective, intelligent but rarely engaging. Restless is a lovely instrumental, and My Heart’s On Fire is this album’s sole mid-tempo track, but the remainder can be relegated to the merely pleasant category.

Treehouse Poetry

While they never really phone it in, SL&G sound restrained on this record, and it does veer into self-satisfied territory a little bit, as if giving fan service to their earlier classic material.

Still, there are some gems among the swathes of lilting keyboards and occasionally erudite lyrics. Still Restless is a wonderful instrumental (even if it is a remake of Headland’s Restless) and they rock out on Jungle of Lies.

But mostly, it’s by numbers and that’s a shame for a band of this calibre.

Choice cuts: Still Restless, Jungle of Lies.

Melting in the Fullness of Time

The least of their records. They go through the motions on many of these tracks, and while this band, even in cruise control, are still very listenable, they have done (and will do) much better. To say nothing of more challenging.

This record is almost adult contemporary in places, and this is one band you don’t want descending into Christopher Cross territory. I’m glad they took eighteen years off to think things over. The instrumental title track and the experimental closer Black Crow are the key tracks.

Mission Creep

It’s a long time between drinks for this outfit. The quiet and occasionally morosely reflective Melting in the Fullness of Time in 2001 indicated that SL&G had decided they had said enough.

Well, I’m glad it’s not so. Yes, they’re back and while there is nothing on this record that comes close to Imagination, Things We Never Did or Jungle of Lies, it does show them in sprightly form. Their underlying sound hasn’t changed. It’s still the same melodic guitar and keyboard driven dreamy post-punk coupled with mostly intelligent lyrics.

In fact, it sounds like Feeding the Flame part two. It has the same strident quality that record has, veering away from Epic Garden Music’s transcendent melodies to more forthright territory. This record is as equally forthright, and the drums are way up front and actually thump in a few places.

But this is not an outstanding record – the band take no chances with their sound. There’s nothing here that they haven’t done on other LPs and the second track Biblical Crows, sounds suspiciously like something off Feeding the Flame or The Mirror Test – just can’t place my finger on it.

Whether this record is intended as fan service or not, I don’t know, but a newcomer to them would be well advised to start at Epic Garden Music (especially the extended version) and work their way through in chronological order to this.

Key cuts? Beauty is Truth and Loneliness have an extra appeal that leaps out of the already very good collection we have here…but why are there three instrumentals here? SL&G do wonderful instrumentals – viz Ours to Kill, Restless and its remix, Still Restless…but three? None of them are particularly breathtaking, but I think they’d be superior songs if they possessed lyrics, especially on the piano driven closer Blood from a Stone, which is crying for Garce’s soft burr to come in and tell a story of woe.

Oh well…in summary, not a disappointment. This band doesn’t disappoint, as they don’t veer from their key strengths, but there’s nothing outstanding about it – no one standout track. It’s all very good.

Just not excellent.