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Cardinal - Hymns

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 27 / 1 / 2012

Cardinal - Hymns
Label: Fire Records
Format: CD


Superb and long-awaited second album from orchestral pop act Cardinal, which lives up to the expectations raised by their over-rated debut album from eighteen years ago

Eighteen years to follow up a debut album is a long time by anyone’s standards but there have been the solo albums in- between as some consolation I guess… Richard Davies and Eric Matthews garnered excellent reviews for ‘Cardinal’ almost two decades ago, but they weren’t exactly matched by excellent sales. As is always the case when an album (or gig) is recognized years later to be significant, it seems everyone and their brother was at the gig or bought the album at the time. I can’t say that I bought Cardinal’s debut when it was released in 1994, I’d heard a few tracks from it and despite thinking, no knowing, that the Bee Gees first album was one of the defining albums of the sixties, for all the comparisons that ‘Cardinal’ received for sounding like that album and also the Beatles I couldn’t hear it. It was a good collection of solid, lush (in places) pop songs that, although nicely out of time in 1994, didn’t really deserve the praise that many lavished on it. It was different from most other albums of the time, but even though the orchestral pop tag fitted it reasonably well where the hell did all the baroque references come from? To a child of the sixties baroque pop meant the Left Banke, Love, even the Zombies in their later years, and while Cardinal might well have been reaching for those heights they fell a little short. But sometimes our curiosity gets the better of us and in 1995 I succumbed to the charms of Eric Matthews solo album, ‘It’s Heavy in Here’, which was the start of the admiration I still have for the guy to this day. Further albums followed and. although all the gushing praise he received in the press wasn’t always justified, there are some excellent songs scattered throughout Matthews solo work. Much the same could be said for Richard Davies, his most memorable albums still being ‘There’s Never Been a Crowd Like This’ and ‘Telegraph’. Then, in 2005, just over a decade after its initial release ‘Cardinal’ was reissued by Wonderland Records; freshly remixed and remastered and including eleven bonus tracks this time it again sounded like a brilliant collection of pop songs, and finally some of Matthew’s arrangements did show a little of the magic that made the early Bee Gee records so special. But it was still far from the classic album it was being hailed as. So what do we make of ‘Hymns’, and was it worth the eighteen year wait? If ‘Hymns’ was an album by a new band with nothing to relate back to it would be greeted with open arms. Strangely the music that this duo make when together, which hasn’t really changed so much from the music displayed on that debut, doesn’t sound so out of place in 2012. Maybe by looking back to the past in 1994 they were actually ahead of their time because ‘Hymns’ certainly goes to the places that ‘Cardinal’ was obviously aiming for. While these beautifully constructed pop songs are lushly orchestrated at times they never feel forced, never feel like they are deliberately trying to recapture times past. These ten originals are good old-fashioned pop songs, of that there is no doubt, but even when they recall the songs of say the sixties as on ‘Love Like Rain’, there’s a modern edge which is totally unexpected and unlike anything else around at the moment which not also shows Cardinal in another light, but shows many bands who are supposedly masters of recreating sounds of old just how to do it. Most impressive is that obviously a lot of time and thought has gone into each and every note played on ‘Hymns’, which, although I’m sure the same could be said of ‘Cardinal’, this time works so much better. ‘Hymns’ is the work of two guys bringing their love of the past together to create something new rather than trying to be too clever. The opening song, ‘Northern Soul’, is simply a pretty little pop gem, a beautiful melody, Davies' gossamer vocals never sounding better and enough going on instrumentally to make you want to hit the return button. It’s the mixture of the unexpected that makes ‘Hymns’ so interesting. The distorted vocals floating in and out of your right ear during the menacing ‘Carbolic Smoke Ball’, the bursts of brass mellowing out the sound, it all makes for some interesting listening. Forget all the Bee Gees / Beatles references and accept ‘Hymns’ for what it is, a brilliant collection of pop songs with one ear in the past while never losing sight of the road ahead. ‘Cardinal’ could never live up to the classic tag it was so often burdened with, and while ‘Hymns’ won’t and shouldn’t be hailed as one if Davies and Matthews can be persuaded to collaborate again without leaving it another eighteen years they’ll get there.

Track Listing:-
1 Northern Soul
2 Carbolic Smoke Ball
3 Her
4 Love Like Rain
5 General Hospital
6 Kal
7 I Am A Roman Gypsy
8 Rosemary Livingstone
9 Surviving Paris
10 Radio Birdman

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