[Reviewed by Peter Marks]
Another slice of cheesecake from Tom Ellard, one more loop of concertina wire in the batter of pop music. You’re wondering what this is all about, keep reading and I’ll tell you. But first, the songs and such songs they are. Melodious, disarming, sugary, deviant, misanthropic, cold, dark, intuitively askew… you’d be correct using any of these words to describe the pieces on ‘Rhine’ but what you would be very warned against is this: assumptions. If you’re a fan of his you know the drill already; if this is your first time on planet Ellard don’t be daft, mind your surroundings well because this landscape and these tunes can change direction in the blink of an eye. Nothing is what it seems.
As for the earlier reference, ‘Rhine’ is another attempt by Ellard to make the aforementioned pop music. He tried it first with an album entitled ‘Eighties Cheesecake’ back in 1982. Oh yes, didn’t I mention? Tom’s been at it as a musician (of sorts) since 1979. You’re probably starting to realize just how deep these waters beneath you run about now so don’t look down. People have been known to turn white as a sheet and begin sweating profusely from doing so. Just enjoy this bit of aural sedition, turn it up loud and watch the world become irrelevant. It is quite easy to throw out the compass and get lost in what he’s done.
Insane as it is to consider, he’s cracked the code this time.
Some of the tracks on ‘Rhine’ could indeed grace the airwaves and what’s more they’d pull it off without any novelty or nostalgia being attached. This music is of the now; Ellard’s mathematical approach to composition gets overlooked by so many and the only reason I can discern is due to his own obscurity. Thing is, he likes it there or else how could he just appear like this and wind up stealing the show… and then the stage and then the venue and then the entire foundation its been built on. His career has been a demonstration of what comes with a bit of patience, in the early days he’d appear live just playing banks of television sets. What he’s up to currently is still demanding, nothing less than a relentless pursuit of uncompromising creative vision.
Now -just as then- he continues to go against the grain; ‘Rhine’ delivers hooks and has melody by the rail car container but what it does not have is the jingoistic stench of commerce being wrung out of art. I think you know what I mean by this. Don’t look for his work to wind up shifting phones, tablets or the hateful streaming services corporations mask their stifling intentions behind. I’m amazed there isn’t a song on here called “Fire in the Hole” because when you get right down to it he’s drawn the line pretty definitively. Listen to his words and the cynicism will come bleeding through all his clever beat combinations and precision atmospheres without remorse.
If there is one thing I regret its that I didn’t get the USB version of this because it contains four additional ambient selections which are not on the standard digital edition I purchased. Who knows just how much further out there he gets with these, I leave that particular surprise to those who went that route. As it stands, this record delivers on all levels even if it isn’t the full cut and I’m beyond grateful (as I always am) that Tom Ellard continues to do what he does because quite frankly, my dears, no one else would.