The Accused

Essay No. 5 in the series The Music of Black (Colin Vearncombe)

by Andrew Keeling

The Accused

To download a PDF version click here.

Contents
Prelude
Background
World Events (1994-99)
Political Correctness
Music from 1994-99
The Accused – The Album
Background and Song Listing
Personnel and Credits
Creative Process
Character
Harmony
Tempi
Instrumentation
The Songs
Sleeper
Number One
Yves Klein Blue
The Way She Was Before
Ghosts
Better Letting Go
Storm Cloud Katherine
St. Cecilia
Blue Sky
Surrender
Coda

Prelude

‘It’s time to come out of the shadows,’ said Colin Vearncombe on the release of his fifth album and the first recorded under his own name. Released in 1999 on his own Nero Schwarz label, the album was named after the punchline to a joke: ‘What do you call a scouser in a suit?’. Vearncombe stated, ‘Despite the financial restrictions, being Indie is a joy and this LP is as close as I’ve come thus far to realising my maximum potential as a writer and performer. I just decided to record the album I wanted to make even if nobody else was interested.’ [1]Nero Schwarz promotional material.

Album reviews were positive: ‘A set suffused with his trademark reflective melancholy… a crooner reminiscent of a ‘60s Scott Walker’, [2]Q Magazine. ‘A return to Wonderful Life’s form… The first single, Sleeper, has been hailed as perfect pop and bodes well for the future.’ [3]Record Collector.

A gap of six years separated Vearncombe’s fourth album, Are We Having Fun Yet, from The Accused. This was the period when he became a father to a growing family as well as the time to reassess his approach to music-making. The Accused not only jettisons the Black moniker but, in doing so, is in step with the transition to an acoustic, less synthesized and more natural sound. As a tastefully arranged indie vision, it is one absorbed into Vearncombe’s stoical retention of a deeply personal style. In a way, the process had already begun with the eponymous Black album and carried over into Are We Having Fun Yet?. Here, however, the change is even more apparent.

Background

World Events (1994-99)

Important background events during Colin Vearncombe’s ‘interregnum’ years are briefly mentioned. Culture is consciously and unconsciously affected by these. For example, The Beatles’ A Day In The Life immediately springs to mind with John Lennon’s observation of The Moors Murders (1963-65) and, even, Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ In The Wind with the then-present threat of nuclear war. One also thinks of Beethoven’s Third Symphony subtitled Eroica, supposedly influenced by the composer’s hero, Napoleon.

In 1994, Ukraine was to surrender its nuclear weapons in the wake of the dissolution of Communism, while Nelson Mandela refuted right-wind demands for a separate homeland in South Africa, later visiting the USA. The epic film, The Shawshank Redemption, was released and Aerosmith was the first band to release a free track on the internet. 

At the beginning of 1995, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was extended, and the Bosnian war escalated with 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men killed. The last major battle of the Croatian war of independence began with Operation Storm. Meanwhile, Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, was named the wealthiest man in the world. 

The first flip-mobile phone was introduced by Motorola in 1996 and, as the internet expanded, the free email service, Hotmail, began. Microsoft also released Internet Explorer 3.0 and the famous video game, Nintendo 64, appeared. Boy band, Take That, announced they were disbanding and girl band, The Spice Girls – empowered by their phrase ‘Girl Power!’ – released their first album selling 23 million copies. Bill Clinton was re-elected as US President and American footballer, O.J. Simpson took to the stand in one of the most publicised trials of the decade to defend himself in the wrongful death lawsuit filed against him. 

By 1997, Tony Blair had been elected as Prime Minister of the UK, bringing Labour to power after a lengthy period of Conservative government. Tragically, during the summer, Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a car crash in Paris with her funeral taking place in London’s Westminster Abbey. At the time, the tragedy created a national outpouring of grief unseen in recent UK history. The Chemical Weapons Convention came into effect, outlawing the production and use of chemical weapons. In the US, O.J. Simpson was found liable for the deaths of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman which continued to be the media’s main headline news. The films Titanic and Jurassic were premiered and former Take That member, Robbie Williams released his first album, Life Thru A Lens which included the monster hit, Angels.

The following year – 1998 – was dominated by Monica Lewinsky’s affair with President Bill Clinton. Clinton faced sexual harassment charges which he later denied. However, with impeachment hearings beginning, he later admitted he misled the American people. In December of the same year, the US House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton and he was later cited for Contempt of Court. The Good Friday Agreement was signed by the Irish and British governments signifying an end to the Troubles. Tony Blair would become the first UK Prime Minister to address parliament in the Irish Republic. The European Court of Human Rights was also established. The Iraq Disarmament Crisis would also begin with Iraq refusing to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors gradually leading to the Second Gulf War. Meanwhile, the literary world mourned the death of Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes and, at the 25th US Music Awards, The Spice Girls walked away with an abundance of accolades.

1999 saw Bill Clinton acquitted in the Monica Lewinsky affair trial. Not only was the Euro currency established, but the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined NATO. Boris Yeltzin also resigned as President of Russia, with Vladimir Putin becoming acting President. The film, The Matrix, would premiere during the year.

Political Correctness

As a development of Postmodernism, Political Correctness became widely disseminated during the mid to late 1990s. A term used to describe measures at avoiding offence to certain groups in society, it first appeared in Marxist vocabulary post-1917 Russian Revolution later being modified on US university campuses during the 1980s. It subsequently became the focus of rational debate, used mainly by conservatives against progressive teaching methods in the US and UK. The term was mainly applied to multiculturalism, identity politics and other minority movements. Herbert Kohl, however, argued the term was disseminated by former Communist Party members with conservative and right-wing politicians using the term to describe ideological opponents.

Looked at through a historical lens, the main world developments came through technology and political correctness which would have far-reaching consequences for music and the arts.

Music from 1994-99

From the mid to late 1990s, indie music became more and more diverse. Artists such as Talk Talk, Suzanne Vega and Tom Waits for example, with their acoustic, jazz and minimalist approaches, had been absorbed into the collective unconscious and music industry ethos spawning, along with others, a proliferation of new music. As a result, technologies and styles of the 1980s had been left far behind or, in some cases, radically developed while, paradoxically, music from the new wave scene now fused with earlier styles – even progressive rock. Sampling and looping became key to the newer, emerging sounds alongside nascent computer technology both for ‘live’ performance and, more so, recording. What could be played in a concert setting more and more resembled recorded work. Also, the return to musical authenticity continued as artists began utilising real strings, brass and keyboard instruments seeing 1980s keyboard technology as unnatural and jaded.

Perhaps the main industry shift came through Seagram acquiring Polygram in 1998. Former labels, such as A&M and Geffen Records, would lose their identities with fewer people controlling what was happening in the music world. As a result, there was greater emphasis on creating hit songs although, paradoxically, album sales would increase through high-powered marketing. Some artists, particularly those associated with acoustic music, saw that to be independent engendered greater creative freedom. Thus, to be tied to a major label meant bowing to the demands of record company executives. However, at the same time indie musicians needed to be single-minded surrounding themselves with small, reliable management and promotional teams who shared a common vision. For example, Robert Fripp’s Discipline Global Mobile developed as a result of his discontent with being part of a ‘dinosaur’ major company, resulting in his court battle – termed the ‘endless grief’ – with his former label E. G. Records. In other words, diversity and independence became the watchwords as musicians were able to operate without outside control. 

It is impossible to mention all the major releases from 1994-99, but the following list provides some indication of the ‘scene’ during the years of Colin Vearncombe’s silence, demonstrating the sheer diversity of the indie scene. Two albums from each year (1994-98) will be briefly overviewed with slightly more emphasis on 1999 and those contemporary with The Accused.

1994

Bush – Sixteen Stone; The Cranberries – No Need To Argue; Smashing Pumpkins – Pisces Iscariot; Korn – Korn; Stone Temple Pilots- Purple; Oasis – Definitely, Maybe; Blur – Parklife; REM – Monster; Beck – Mellow Gold; Hole – Live Through This; Johnny Cash – American Recordings; Soundgarden – Superunknown; Jeff Buckley – Grace; Weezer – Weezer; Green Day – Dookie; Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral

Oasis – Definitely, Maybe

Perhaps the most successful album of 1994, spawning the visible era of Britpop and betraying Noel and Liam Gallagher’s homage to The Beatles. Whether it is the powerful Rock ‘n’ Roll Star, with its opulent B major, basic harmonic structure and bent-string instrumental guitar hook; or the opening B7 chords of Shakermaker with its slide guitars and pounding bass and drums; the F#m7-A-B guitar opening of Supersonic with Liam Gallagher’s characteristic Manchunian drawl; or the rock n’ roll drive of Cigarettes and Alcohol, this was the big statement the ‘90s had been waiting for and what a band like The Stone Roses could never quite reach.

Geoff Buckley – Grace

Another sensation of the year, betraying the influence of Led Zeppelin crossed with The Cocteau Twins, Grace was Buckley’s finest moment and one he would never recapture. From the inward introduction of Mojo Pin – which gradually winds up to its climax in spans – to the album’s title track, with its 12/8 momentum and bright D major instrumental opening dipping with the Phrygian Em-F verses along with a charged coda and Buckley’s high Robert Plant-like wail and the Cocteau Twins-influenced cut-off this is popular music of grandeur. Contrasted by the Leonard Cohen cover of Hallelujah and Benjamin Britten’s Corpus Christi Carol, Grace offers an insight into Buckley’s eclectic taste, along with a glimpse into archetypal failed romance.

1995

Radiohead – The Bends; Spiritualized – Pure Phase; Aphex Twin – I Care Because You Do; Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill; Pulp – Different Class; Blur – The Great Escape; Bjork – Post; Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?; P.J. Harvey – To Bring You My Love; Supergrass – I Should Coco; Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness; Garbage – Garbage

Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?

The mid-1990s was the era of Oasis and Britpop and the media-driven hype for musical supremacy between Oasis and Blur. If Blur’s Country House (from The Great Escape) was an observation of upper/middle-class suburbia – with hints of The Small Faces – then Oasis would challenge that with their earthy, Mancunian swagger on the opening Hello. By including a wall-of-sound on songs such as Roll With It and Hey Now! and the title-less sixth track, segueing into the massive D major rock n’ roll blitz of Some Might Say, the triumph of the album is the more acoustic, songwriting side. Wonderwall– with its fixed-position Em7-G(no 3rd)-D sus-A7/11 (capo 2) – along with its enduring verse and chorus melody and, when it arrives in verse two, the massive drum shuffle rhythm and mellotron cello, make this an all-time classic finding its way into amateur and educational circles and ensuring its survival far beyond the time. The Hey Jude-like opening of Don’t Look Back In Anger, providing a further clue to Noel Gallagher’s homage to the Beatles, is transformed through his own fine songwriting craftsmanship. Cast No Shadow – dedicated to The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft – is also notable.

Supergrass – I Should Coco

One of the great triumphs of the year – and the fastest-selling album for Parlophone since The Beatles’ Please, Please Me – was the Cardiacs-influenced Supergrass. On songs such as I’d Like To Know, the new-wave ferocity and tight arrangement are consistent throughout the album. More approachable than the Cardiacs, the monster hit Alright caught the public’s attention with Gaz Coombe’s distinctive rising vocal line, two-chord underlay and two-pitch chorus playing continuously over the nation’s airwaves.

1996 

The Divine Comedy – Casanova; Kula Shaker – K; Super Furry Animals – Fuzzy Logic; Swans – Soundtracks For The Blind; Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Murder Ballads; REM – New Adventures In Hi-Fi; Manic Street Preachers – Everything Must Go; Stereolab – Emperor Tomato Ketchup; The Cardigans – First Band On The Moon; Metallica – Load; Tortoise – Millions Now Living Will Never Die; Tool – Aenima; Fiona Apple – Tidal; Belle And Sebastian – If You’re Feeling Sinister; The Spice Girls – Spice; Beck – Odelay

Manic Street Preachers – Everything Must Go

This Welch trio – James Dean Bradfield, Sean Moore and Nicky Wire – achieved huge commercial success with Everything Must Go. Influenced by The Clash’s London Calling on their first release, Generation Terrorists, Everything Must Go, produced by Mike Hedges – and recorded in the same studio as Colin Vearncombe’s previous album, also produced by Mike Hedges –  was released following the disappearance of rhythm guitarists and lyricist, Richey Edwards. Featuring songs such as A Design For Life, with its 12/8 shuffle, distinctive C-Dm-G-Eb-D9 sequence and modulation (G-Eb) and the ecstatic chorus, the mellotrons and Bradfield’s high vocals of the title track, makes this a high-point for mid-‘90s releases. The harps and acoustic guitars of Small Black Flowers are referred to as an observation of Richey Edwards’ state of mind at the time of his disappearance. 

Belle and Sebastian – If You’re Feeling Sinister

This eclectic band, formed by Glasgow’s Stuart Murdoch and Stuart David, recorded the early album Tigermilk (1994) subsequently signing to Jeepster Records which resulted in If You’re Feeling Sinister. The largely acoustic feel of the album is deployed on tracks such as Stars Of Track And Field with its light acoustic guitar, Hammond organ and middle trumpet solo. Seeing Other People’s piano and syncopated rim-shots and strummed electric guitar accompanying Stuart Murdoch’s dead-pan vocal leads into the memorable piano is doubled by vibes. The title track’s opening volume-pedal guitar of F#-B and developing rhythm is kept in the service of the narrative element. The album demonstrates acoustic and songwriting traditions although the band would later develop their production values with Trevor Horn at the helm on Catastrophe Waitress. 

1997 

Cornershop – When I Was Born For The 7th Time; Supergrass – In It For The Money; Blink 182 – Dude Ranch; Beth Orton – Trailer Park; U2 – Pop; The Verve – Urban Hymns; Ben Folds Five – Whatever And Ever Amen; Mogwai – Young Team; Paul McCartney – Flaming Pie; Foo Fighters – The Colour And The Shape; Bob Dylan – Time Out Of Mind; Spiritualized – Ladies And Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space; Elliott Smith – Either/Or; Radiohead – OK Computer; Portishead – Portishead

Radiohead – OK Computer

Produced by Nigel Godrich and Radiohead, OK Computer stands as one of the finest albums of the decade. An observation of the new, emerging information age, from Airbag onwards vocalist and guitarist Thom Yorke set a precedent for collective vocal deliveries, along with characteristic and definable production values counterpointed by ambience. The single, Paranoid Android, with its acoustic Cm-Cm/Bb-Cm/F|Gm-Gm/A-Bb-Gm/E counterpointed by York’s ascending falsetto rising and falling line, creates a ‘90s neo-prog sectionalisation. But it is the arrival of Colin Greenwood’s clean high guitar underpinned by Yorke’s Gm-Dm/F-E7 which is sonically arresting. The entry of the acoustic and bass riff (1:57) and its development (2:09) – now on C and in 7/4 – further reinforces the structural sectionalisation. With ambition now the central concern, the tension is cranked-up to the acoustic riff suddenly re-introduced on distorted and gated electric guitars and a manic guitar solo (3:04) and cut in favour of a Baroque-period multi-vocal section (Cm-G/B-G/Bb-A7|Dm-A7-Dm-Dm/C|Bb-F/A-G etc.) and Yorke’s ‘raindown’ vocals. The sudden cut-off at the end leaves a listener gasping for breath. The introduction of Subterranean Homesick Blues has a resemblance to Taste’s On The Boards (1970) yet develops quite differently and Electioneering’s Stephen Hawking-like narrative and the distanced upright piano and sonic strangeness of Climbing Up The Walls have an originality beyond comparison. Realising it was a pointless task in copying their cliches the follow-up released in 2000, Kid A, would cast-off most things remotely to do with the language of rock.

The Verve – Urban Hymns

Beginning with Bittersweet Symphony, sampled from the Rolling Stones’ The Last Time, the single would become an international hit for the Wigan band. Richard Ashcroft’s northern country-folk sensibility provides the album with an earthy character, especially on The Drugs Don’t Work with its simple but effective C-Am-Em-F-G-C harmony heightened by strings and Lucky Man’s G-D-A, underpinning Ashcroft’s quasi-US drawl. This Time develops with a shuffle-rhythm and clean wah-wah guitar also re-used in the closing Come On with its guitar-driven textures.

1998 

Rufus Wainwright – Rufus Wainwright; Tortoise – TNT; Death Cab For Cutie – Something About Aeroplanes; P.J. Harvey – Is This Desire?; At The Drive-In – In/Casino/Out; Madonna – Ray Of Light; Mercury Rev – Deserter’s Songs; Air – Moon Safari; Boards Of Canada – Music Has The Right To Children; Beck – Mutations; Massive Attack – Mezzanine

Air – Moon Safari

French electronic duo Air’s debut album, Moon Safari, features the track Sexy Boy heard on many alternative radio shows at the time. Stylistically eclectic, the band was influenced by prog, electronica (Brian Eno), psychedelia, and punk (Siouxie and the Banshees). La Femme d’Argent, with its rain-like ambience and looped synthesizer chords (B-Bm-F#-E), kicks-off the album highlighting the importance of Fripp and Eno-like loops though now produced digitally. Sexy Boy’s robotic synthesizer octaves (D-C) and female refrain represent late ‘90s dance ‘cool’.

Elliott Smith – XO

More developed than Smith’s previous Either/Or, XO’s opening song, Sweet Adeline has descending acoustic pitches leading into verses in G with a thickening of texture featuring piano and rhythm section. Waltz #2 has a quality of Nick Drake, whereas Waltz #1, with its picked electric guitar, piano and falsetto vocals is altogether more fragile. Elliott Smith died in 2003 while working on his sixth album with suicide as the likely cause of death although the verdict remains conclusive.

1999

With Britpop wearing thin, by 1999 audiences began looking for more experimental music. Radiohead had shown the way forward with OK Computer and other bands such as Muse with their debut album, Showbiz, taking elements, such as Matt Bellamy’s vocal style, from the latter. Besides Muse, and standing contemporary with Colin Vearncombe’s The Accused, are a number of important albums. Five eclectic releases will be briefly overviewed.

The Ben Folds Five – The Unauthorised Biography Reinhold Messner

US alt-rock trio, The Ben Folds Five’s prog-like third album begins with the piano-based Narcolepsy with its instantly memorable vocal melody over a C pedal in a swinging 6/8. With a shift into A major, Change Your Plans has bVI-bVII-I harmony underlining its affinity with prog. This kaleidoscopic album relates an imaginary narrative structure dealing with dark themes such as death and regret. Quite different from the band’s first two albums, The Unauthorised Biography… features strings and brass and more advanced harmony and structures.

Wilco – Summerteeth

Wilco’s third, song-based release was released prior to the seminal Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2001). Starting with the mellotron-drenched Can’t Stand It, it features the influence of The Beatles with its oscillating D-G major harmony and tubular bells. The slower She’s A Jar also includes mellotron – this time flutes – while A Shot In The Arm is pure Paul McCartney including timpani and synthesizer arrangements. 

The White Stripes – The White Stripes

Comprising Jack White (vocals and guitar) and Meg White (drums) with their lo-fi approach along with organ bass pedals to double the guitar, this eponymous debut album laid the groundwork for the duo’s six-album career with Led Zeppelin-like riffs and vocals. Including mainly short songs, Jimmy The Exploder has G-F-C/E chording while Stop Breaking Down is a blues (I-IV-V in B major) with a central slide-guitar solo. Sugar Never Tasted So Good is, however, an acoustic song with basic percussion, not unlike the early Marc Bolan/Steve Peregrin-Took’s, Tyrannosaurus Rex. The album also includes a cover of St. James Infirmary made famous by the likes of The Animals and Allen Toussaint.

Beck – Midnight Vultures

Beck Hansen’s Midnight Vultures is an album suffused with soul textures and rhythms. Opening with two chord oscillation of the fast brass-laden Sexx Laws, Nicotine and Gravy includes funk rhythms, turntables as an underlay for vocals. Get Real Paid has ambient sounds as an intro for a high-speed electronic synth groove whereas Peaches and Cream reintroduces a guitar riff of syncopated G-F. Debra that takes the tension down into Jimmy Webb-like nostalgia.

Sigur Ros – Ageotis Byrjun

This Icelandic post-rock unit’s second album brought international acclaim with three songs appearing in the film, Vanilla Sky. From Intro onwards, the atmospheric nature of the album is immediately established, segueing into the lengthy Svefn-g-englar with its Pink Floyd-like organ sustained chords and distanced guitars played with cello bow and falsetto vocals. Storalfur has looped strings and piano with sustained Bb-Eb harmony, contrasted with Flugufrelsarinn’s long harmonic rhythm (E-G-A).

With the fusion of postmodernism and political correctness, along with the internet and digital technology, it is as though everyone, everywhere was free from traditional constraints providing the arts with an endless supply of material to remake and remodel in any form. Paradoxically, this would often take the form of materials culled from the past. One thinks of King Crimson’s Thrak (1996) with its opening instrumental, Vrooom referencing the band’s previous instrumental Red (1974) and, even, One Time owing something to Manchester’s Durutti Column. Another example is found on Jeff Buckley’s Grace where covers of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and Benjamin Britten’s Corpus Christi Carol are included.

Indie Acoustic

Continuing the subject from the previous essay, the indie acoustic scene would develop undoubtedly having an influence on Colin Vearncombe’s work during his second musical period beginning in 1999.

David Gray, Badly Drawn Boy, Electric Soft Parade, Turin Brakes, the Mull Historical Society and, in the US, Elliott Smith, are perhaps the best known. Lo-fi may be a more apt description of the scene which also included David Kitt, Tindersticks and The Flaming Lips. Essentially, here was a dedication to songwriting craft, with many diverse influences: Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, Judee Sill and Linda Perhacs are those mostly cited as the major sources. This would later develop into nu-folk with Espers and Vetiver in the US, The Frames and Fionn Regan from Ireland and artists such as Mumford and Sons, Noah and the Whale, Arcade Fire, Polyphonic Spree and so on. Possibly coming as a reaction against late twentieth and early twenty-first-century pop and the grunge movement, indie acoustic grew out of the British folk-rock scene of the late 1960s/early ‘70s (Fairport Convention, The Albion Band, Martin Carthy and Michael Chapman) while pointing forward to the Ed Sheeran phenomenon of the second decade of the twenty-first century. 

The Accused  – The Album

Background and Song Listing

According to Colin Vearncombe’s management, The Accused was being recorded during 1997-98 prior to its release in 1998. [4]E-mail from Collin Vearncombe management, 3-01-22. This would suggest that Vearncombe was far from being inactive during his ‘interregnum’ years (1994-99) and ceaselessly sketching new ideas for songs. His wife, Camilla Griehsel, although featuring on backing vocals on the album, comments, ‘I was pregnant with our second son, Marius, born late January 1999, so was in my bubble with my baby’ [5]E-mail from Camilla Griehsel, 10-02-22. supporting Colin’s commitment to his family. 

The album includes ten songs, all strophically structured:

  1. Sleeper 
  2. Number One
  3. Yves Klein Blue 
  4. The Way She Was Before 
  5. Ghosts – requiem
  6. Better Letting Go 
  7. Storm Cloud Katherine 
  8. St. Cecilia 
  9. Blue Sky 
  10. Surrender

Personnel and Credits

The Accused includes a ‘core’ band with a number of contributors:

Colin Vearncombe – vocals, guitars, piano, glockenspiel, percussion; Martin Green – keyboards; Clare Kenny – bass guitar; Jim Kimberly – drums. Strings and brass arranged by Colin Vearncombe and Martin Green. 

Callum McColl – guitar and bass on Blue Sky and guitars on The Way She Was Before; Paul Stacey – additional guitars on Sleeper and St. Cecilia; Jeremy Stacey – drums on Sleeper and additional keyboards of Storm Cloud Katherine and St. Cecilia; Steve Barney – drums on Blue Sky; Martin Ditcham – percussion on Number One; Carlos Edwards – percussion on Number One; Boo Hewerdine – additional vocals on Sleeper; Charlie Dore – additional vocals on Number One; Camilla Griehsel – additional vocals on Sleeper and Better Letting Go. 

Song credits: Sleeper – Colin Vearncombe/Boo Hewerdine; Number One – Vearncombe/Alison Clarke/Charlie Dore; Yves Klein Blue – Colin Vearncombe; The Way She Was Before – Colin Vearncombe; Ghosts – Colin Vearncombe/Gary Clarke/Reg Meuross; Better Letting Go – Colin Vearncombe/John O’Kane; Storm Cloud Katherine, St. Cecilia, Blue Sky and Surrender – Colin Vearncombe.

Production – Colin Vearncombe and Martin Green; Mixing – Rafe McKenna; Mastering – Robin Millar assisted by Mark Smith; Photography and design – Graham Wood at Tomato.

Listed as Nero CD 9901.

Creative Process

Musician and producer, Martin Green, who played woodwind instruments on Vearncombe’s four previous album, sheds light on Vearncombe’s creative process:

‘I think it’s the case that Colin used a Dictaphone or similar to make musical notes using guitar and voice and a notebook for lyrics and maybe chord charts. We did some pre-production recordings for Comedy with Dave Anderson at an 8-track place, but after Colin moved to London he had an Akai 12-track – a bit like a giant Portastudio – in his flat, with which to make demo tracks. The only time manuscript paper ever made an appearance was for the horn section or string section sessions. Robin Millar was almost completely blind and had an uncanny knack of working out arrangements in his head which he could dictate to the players. There wasn’t really a “pitching to producers” phase after Wonderful Life as Robin and Colin both became very close friends and Mike Hedges was well known to Steve from his work with Wah! .’ [6]E-mail from Martin Green, 14-02-22.

Green also comments on The Accused where he changed instrumental roles now featuring on keyboards as well as sharing production credits: ‘Colin used the Akai 12-track for demo recordings until he acquired a hybrid protools and Tascam digital system for the room he used in the Tomato studio in D’Arblay Street in London. In fact, the version of Surrender that he recorded with it was used as a master for The Accused. We just added strings (obviously the parts were written out for the string recording) during the mix session. Usually in the studio situation, musicians would make their own set of notes, with Colin demonstrating the chords and structure on guitar or sometimes piano, with the definitive parts developed during the recording process. [7]Ibid.

The Accused is altogether more sparingly arranged, freeing itself from the 1980s in terms of technology and production and, as a result, sounding more contemporary. Green observes, ‘I think that in the work Colin did with Dave Dix, Robin Millar and, to a much lesser degree with Mike Hedges, there was always a conscious effort to achieve a certain sound or ‘style’ usually coming from the producer’s ideas. The Accused was made in a very different way to the earlier albums with no schedule, plan and, at first, not even the aim of making an album, as I recall. We were initially making demo tracks and then we started adding parts to some of the recording he’d started with Jeremy Stacey which had stalled for some reason. My view, rightly or wrongly, was that Colin didn’t need to be guided by a guru-like figure and could find his own creative path. We did want to make a break with the highly stylised production that is probably most evident on Black.’

‘We were working only a couple of days a week in the project studio we shared in the Tomato building in Lexington Street, and at a certain point we did decide to do a test mix session, to prove or disprove the concept that we could do pretty much all the recording in what was essentially a demo studio and then hand the tracks over to a mix engineer/studio to produce an acceptable master. Using Storm Cloud Katherine as our guinea pig, we went to Oslo to work with Jock Loveband (a Robin Millar regular engineer) at the small mix studio which was coincidentally in the same building as the famous Rainbow studio where many classic ECM recordings were made. This proved to be a success, so we continued with a more concrete idea of making an album, ultimately mixing and recording strings at Roundhouse in Clerkenwell with Rafe McKenna.’ [8]Ibid.

Four of the songs on The Accused are co-written suggesting Vearncombe was intent on developing his songs in different directions. Martin Green continues, ‘I think the idea of collaborating with other songwriters came from the rut that Colin found himself in after Are We Having Fun Yet?. I’m not sure if this came from Colin himself or if he was encouraged to try working with new people by either management or Robin Millar.’ [9]Ibid.

Although the album sounds different, paradoxically Vearncombe’s personal style remains the same translating as musically single-minded. Green says, ‘As far as I know his main influences such as Scott Walker, classic soul, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young et al didn’t really change throughout this period, but he did listen to a lot of contemporary sounds that were influencing the work going on in Tomato, like Underworld, Dead Can Dance and others.’ [10]Ibid.

Now free from industry concerns centring on style and sales, and surrounding himself in an independent management, promotional and recording structure, Colin Vearncombe was finally able to make the album he had always wanted to make. Are We Having Fun Yet? was Janus-faced, looking forwards to the future but certainly back to the corporate structures and style he had recently left. The Accused is, however, something quite different. The music industry, in forcing artists to largely adopt false personas, had gone against itself finding it was shedding excellent musicians in the process. Since the 1950s onwards, the corporate liberal system had adopted a big business ethos which stood against the zeitgeist which they, during late 1960s/early ‘70s , had been able to accommodate with subsidiary, underground labels such as Harvest and Vertigo. Now, however, with new recording technology and the nascent internet, things were different. Artists became free to do their own thing. For example, in 1970 progressive rock band T2’s It’ll All Work Out In Boomland was almost rejected by Decca Records executives failing to understand the album. As a result, they quickly dropped the band without properly promoting and distributing the record. T2 eventually resurfaced in the 1990s with three new albums, though ‘Boomland’ was re-released several times by new indie labels around the world with the album achieving cult-status.

Character

As with previous albums, Vearncombe and his producer, Martin Green, are careful to position each song in the album’s programme according to several combined factors with each of the songs having a clearly defined character.

Diagram 1

Song titleCharacter
Sleeperawakening
Number Oneselfishness
Yves Klein Bluelove
The Way She Was Beforenostalgia/longing
Ghostsrequiem
Better Letting Goresignation
Storm Cloud Katherineconflict
St. Ceciliaaspiration
Blue Skyutopia
Surrendersensuality

Harmony

As previously, ten songs are presented on The Accused. The most striking element here is that eight out of ten songs are in the major mode which stands in contrast to some of the earlier albums, the exception being the black album.

Diagram 2

Song titleKey
SleeperG major
Number OneF major (begins Bb major)
Yves Klein BlueA minor
The Way She Was BeforeD major
GhostsE major
Better Letting GoF# major
Storm Cloud KatherineC major
St. CeciliaC major
Blue SkyF# major
SurrenderC major

Songs 1, 2, 4 and 7 outline a V-IV-II- I (G – F – D – C) descent with C major – the ‘home’ mode – extended through songs 7, 8 and 10. There are examples of harmonic interruptions – similar to Interrupted Cadences – in songs 3 and, particularly, 6 and 9 where the F# major mode takes the long-term harmony a tritone away from the ‘home’ mode. ( Accused Ex. 1 ) C major is often associated with joy of brightness and, perhaps, this is an indicator of Vearncombe’s state of mind at the time. Boo Hewerdine, who co-wrote Sleeper and who sings backing vocals on the track, remembers, ‘Artistically, Colin came to himself and was happy at that point. He was a wonderful singer and guitarist. I played a gig with him at Ronnie Scott’s and went to his flat to write. We may have written more songs, but I can’t remember.’ [11]Telephone conversation with Boo Hewerdine, 16-04-22.

Tempi

The Accused has a varied tempi- range, beginning on the fast side and gradually slowing towards the end, interrupted in the middle by the very slow song, Ghosts. 

Diagram 3

Song titleTempi
Sleepercrotchet bpm = 126 – Fast
Number Onecrotchet bpm – 100 – Fast
Yves Klein Bluecrotchet bpm 112 – Fast
The Way She Was Beforecrotchet bpm = 84 – Moderate
Ghostscrotchet bpm = 50 – Variable/slow (ad. lib)
Better Letting Gocrotchet bpm = 80 – Moderate
Storm Cloud Katherinecrotchet bpm = 88-92 – Moderate
St. Ceciliacrotchet bpm = 80 – Moderate
Blue Skycrotchet bpm = 88 – Moderate, sounds fast
Surrendercrotchet bpm = 76 – Moderate

The tempi range from Sleeper to Ghosts is 126 to 50. Ghosts’ variable tempi is also governed by the ad. lib treatment due to the subject (fallen heroes). From thereon the speed picks up but to nothing over 88 bpm.

Instrumentation

Instrumentation on The Accused is tasteful and purposeful, dispensing of 1980s technology which only re-surfaces for the final song, Surrender. This is done to, partially, to evoke the floating atmosphere as well as musically depicting Graham Wood’s front cover photo for the album. Metaphorically, the song depicts imaginary freedom perhaps referring to the previous much faster song, Blue Sky. 

Diagram 4

Song titleInstrumentation
Sleepervocal(s), 3 electric guitars, acoustic guitar, piano, bass, synthesizer, drums, glockenspiel
Number Onevocal(s), acoustic guitar, classical guitar, electric guitar, Fender Rhodes piano, bass, strings, drums, synthesizer effects
Yves Klein Bluevocal, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, electric piano, synthesizer, strings, drums
The Way She Was Beforevocal(s), electric guitar, synthesizer, bass, drums
Ghostsvocal, piano, brass trio (with an extra part sometimes added)
Better Letting Govocal(s), 2 electric guitars, electric piano, bass, synthesizer, strings, drums
Storm Cloud Katherinevocal(s), acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, drums, glockenspiel, strings
St. Ceciliavocal, 2 electric guitars, bass, drums, piano, organ, synth ambience, strings
Blue Skyvocal(s), 2 electric guitars, bass/fuzz bass, drums, synthesizer, organ, strings
Surrendervocal(s), electric piano, 2 synthesizers, electric piano, fretless bass, synth bass, strings

As with previous Vearncombe albums, the instrumentation is varied but, here, perhaps more so. The removal of 1980s production has been removed, creating an authenticity in keeping with the musical authenticity of the time. As a result, this meshes with Vearncombe’s acoustic concerns from here on, not that he was ever overtly centred on hard-edged music. Textures sound stylish without being centred on any one style. Ghosts is probably the song which stands out largely due to its much-reduced instrumental palette. Martin Green remembers, ‘As I recall it was Steve Sidwell on trumpet – it may have been flugelhorn – and Nigel Barr who played euphonium and/or tuba. We overdubbed the parts as we could only afford two players. Nigel was Michael Nyman’s manager at the time.’ [12]E-mail from Martin Green, 2-05-22.

The Songs

If Are We Having Fun Yet? and, previously, the Black album demonstrated a shift US-wards for Colin Vearncombe, then The Accused represents a flinging the door wide open into the music of that country. Apart from Ghosts and Surrender, the remainder suggest US songwriter territory, providing undeniable comparisons with the likes of Jimmy Webb and early Tom Waits. Boo Hewerdine comments, ‘The people who came through were part of a shift towards songwriting. It was actually more a songwriter than acoustic scene. There were people like Callum McColl and Edi Reader in there.’ [13]Telephone conversation with Boo Hewerdine, 16-04-22.

Sleeper

Co-written with Boo Hewerdine, and set at crotchet bpm = 126, this opening song unrepentantly throws a listener into up-tempo Americana. In a bright G major mode together with semi-arpeggiated Perfect 5ths in two clean electric guitars, it connects with the chiming guitars of ‘60s US country-rock band, The Byrds. ( Accused Ex. 2 ) This is immediately followed by bell-like descending scales also in the guitars over Em-C-G-D (vi-IV-I-V) harmony played in the full band. ( Accused Ex. 3 ) This twice repeated bright, driving introduction is the perfect fanfare for the memorable first verse (0:21). ( Accused Ex. 4 ) The phrase is sung over the same harmony as in the climbing introduction (i.e. vi-IV-V-I). Vearncombe’s vocal rhythm often ‘rides’ the barline making things less four-square and, more importantly, with nothing too far away from his now familiar style prompting a listener to question his intent. Instead, here is a refreshed musical palette as compared to the very occasionally ponderous previous albums. 

The pre-chorus introduces Boo Hewerdine’s backing-vocal ( Accused Ex. 5 ) and the chorus’ structure is slightly more defined than the segued short choruses of the past. Here, the chorus exists in its own right with Vearncombe taking the word ‘sleeper’ while Hewerdine responds with ‘dreamer’ and continuing, ‘You could be more than you are’ on its second appearance (1:00). ( Accused Ex. 6 ) The chiming guitars are also re-introduced with nothing obscuring the vocals. 

Verse two brings out one of the main elements of the song with the line, ‘Around forever on the circle line’. Hewerdine recalls, ‘I had an idea and went to Colin’s flat to write. It was about the Circle Line in London because I used to travel on it a lot and so it became the central idea for the song. I also seem to remember that Colin’s place was close to it. I tend to go into songwriting sessions unprepared and then see what happens. So, “whatever happens, happens”.’ [14]Ibid.

The Middle8 arrives (2:07) with sustained guitar on an open E7, although the driving bass and drums continue, yet synth and glockenspiel are heard brightly at the top of the texture ( Accused Ex. 7 ) reminiscent of a ‘60s Farfisa organ. Oft-repeated, the full band enter with the ‘chiming’ material (2:22) with drummer Jeremy Stacey forcefully emphasising snare on every beat of the bar, driving the momentum even further. A further chorus follows (2:52ff.) with piano octaves also briefly adding colour to the chimes. Closing with the E7 section (3:24ff.), now phased and with varied drum rhythms, the song fades. 

Sleeper is the ideal opener and the ‘perfect pop’ mentioned by Record Collector. More than that, it prepares the atmosphere for the remainder of the album with its memorable verse, chorus and instrumental material.

Number One

Marked at crotchet bpm = 100, and sounding slower as compared to not-so-distant-in-tempo to the previous song, Number One is a texturally-reduced acoustic song. Possibly because of the reduced instrumentation, a listener’s perception of speed is altered. Also, in F major, the Tonic key is rarely heard except with its F9/A chording. 

Beginning with two acoustic guitars (one classical), acoustic guitar harmonica, bass and light drums, the light arrangement is fitting considering the song is an observation of the subjective ‘I’ – the ego. ( Accused Ex. 8 ) A singularly delicate touch are the guitar harmonics, often imperceptible (0:01ff.). ( Accused Ex. 9

A soft vocal enters (0:20) delivered over the same chords heard in the introduction (Bb9-F9/A-[Dm]). ( Accused Ex. 10 ) The vocal line in the second half of the verse climbs somewhat, appropriately reaching a falsetto C natural on the word ‘birds’ (0:40). ( Accused Ex. 11 ) However, it is balanced by a subsequent descent and reflected in the accompanying harmony (Bb9-C-Dm-C7-Gm-A7), though the chorus is the most memorable section with its line of numbers (0:59ff.) ( Accused Ex. 12

Verse two includes slightly more drum rhythm tastefully added on brushes and the subsequent chorus finds Camilla Griehsel’s backing-vocal in parallel Minor 10ths above Vearncombe’s. 

The Middle8 (2:25ff.) falls to Gm-D7 with synthesizer ‘sonar’ sounds in every other bar. This recalls No-One, None, Nothing from Comedy, perhaps pointing to a metaphorical connection between that song and this and creating musical unity over historic time. The words here – Frozen spring, I broke your mirror’ – evokes Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, The Lady of Shalott. Subsequently, strings are heard for the first time in sumptuous 3rds. ( Accused Ex. 13 ) Electric guitar also plays in the pre-chorus leading to the final chorus, now fuller with the addition of accompanying strings. The song fades as the chorus repeats with Vearncombe’s improvised vocal line sung against the vocal chorus hookline. 

This song, in particular, is worthy of comparison with the best of Jimmy Webb’s, with its opulent and arresting melody and fine arrangement. Perhaps the reason the harmony never actually finds the Tonic F major – except as F9/A – is in the observation he makes: things never quite when encountering selfishness. This kind of touch marks the song as being more than just a pleasant melody with pleasing accompaniment, promoting it to metaphor along the lines of a Nick Drake or Franz Schubert. 

Yves Klein Blue

Although dramatic in character, it is as though Vearncombe had by now learnt to temper this side of his musicality. Being a balladeer meant that his emotional intent would always be an important side of his writing and delivery. Also, with the ‘90s collectives’ intent to downplay this side of creative expression, a musician such as Vearncombe, would have been regarded as distanced from the norm. 

This faster, dramatic and harder-edged song begins with an electric guitar hook. ( Accused Ex. 14 ) In A Aeolian mode, the full band kick-in (0:09) followed by the first verse (0:19) where Vearncombe’s acoustic accompanies his ever-present voice ( Accused Ex. 15 ) The first phrase touches A harmonic minor crossing with the natural minor (mode). The octave electric guitar counterpoints the vocals in octaves, picking up from the hookline introduction. The end of the verse has the band loudly emphasising E7 with the drums (snare) playing every beat of the bar (0:50ff.)

The smoother pre-chorus and chorus sections follow (0:59ff.) with the electric guitar placed further back in the mix and balancing the synths. The descending chromatic harmony leads the way here, not unlike Nick Drake’s At The Chime Of A City Clock. ( Accused Ex. 16 ) The rhythmic tension subsequently picks-up, with a dramatic abrupt modulation to F major (VI) heightened by the song’s main rhythmic motif of quaver to tied quavers to quaver. ( Accused Ex. 17 ) Meanwhile, the octave electric guitar introductory material is restored (1:24ff.)

Verse two continues the strophic structure, but with further improvised vocals and an intensification of the chorus heightened by strings taking the music to new heights, as well as deploying the quaver-tied quavers-quaver rhythmic motif. ( Accused Ex. 18 ) The rhythmic motif, present from the beginning, is also used for the ‘You pick me up, you put me down’ repetitions. Yves Klein Blue closes with the guitar octaves along with an open-5ths crescendo in the strings and synth resonance.

The Way She Was Before

The double-tracked vocal of The Way She Was Before follows, the main rhythm added by Vearncombe’s second acoustic guitar part, with John Martyn-like slap-rhythms added every second and fourth beat of the bar. The song could be a page from the Jimmy Webb songbook, it is so close to that songwriter, yet stands in its own right as one of Vearncombe’s most memorable offerings.

Ghosts

Notable for its textural restraint, and beginning with flugelhorn, Ghosts develops into a small brass ensemble apt for the musical evocation of warfare and fallen heroes. The introduction has a semi-quotation – the first four notes only – of Gustav Holst’s melody from the carol, In The Bleak Midwinter. ( Accused Ex. 19

A solo piano, played very simply by Vearncombe ad. lib, has a right-hand ostinato of rising semitone followed by a 5th. ( Accused Ex. 20 ) The harmony is straightforward: E-C#m-A-B and the melody utilises the rising semitone from the ostinato. ( Accused Ex. 21 ) The atmosphere, like the texture, is stark, reminiscent of World War I’s No Man’s Land. 

Verse two continues following a pause ( Accused Ex. 22 ) with the harmony intensifying. Vearncombe is not necessarily aware of textbook harmonic procedure, but his choice of chording is appropriate for the desolation in question. The brass re-enter (2:10ff.) providing a heroic yet elegiac quality. 

The final verse’s ‘In silent houses, the heroes fall’ leave the piano to complete the song with the semi-quotation of the Holst melody heard again. Less a song than a memorial hymn, Ghosts is an apt memorial to Vearncombe’s own family members who may well have fought in the two world wars and, beyond that, lost friends and acquaintances.

Better Letting Go

follows with its moderate tempo (crotchet bpm = 80). In F# major and beginning with Vearncombe’s soft electric guitar, it is the downward scale, first heard on electric, that becomes the main instrumental hook developing later into the chorus hookline. ( Accused Ex. 23 ) Descending guitar lines/motif are used throughout the album – even the very first F# guitar chord of Better Letting Go is arpeggiated downwards – to unify the whole. Here, the line descends a 5th, whereas Sleeper’s guitar ‘chime’ motif/scale descends a 4th. Number One includes a descending 3rd and Yves Klein Blue has a descent of a linear 7th (D-E).

As previously mentioned, the chorus is made from the descending 5th and extended sequentially ( Accused Ex. 24 ) while the instrumental introduction undergoes timbral transformation with synth and glockenspiel (1:16ff.). 

The expansive Middle8, with its string arrangement, is carried over into the final chorus together with the falling 5th hookline.

Storm Cloud Katherine

This moderately paced song (crotchet bpm = 88-92) is formed from a much-reduced harmonic palette: C9-G/B-C9-Em7. Introduced softly on one acoustic guitar, distorted electric is added (0:21) on a muted rhythm. Together with the acoustic they form the basis for Vearncombe’s voice. ( Accused Ex. 25 ) The atmosphere is dark and ominous, lightening a little (0:42ff.) with the introduction of light guitar harmonics during the pre-chorus. The first phrase has backing vocals and 4th, then a 3rd above. ( Accused Ex. 26 ) With the full band now playing (1:06ff.), the ascending vocal part creating tension with three rhythmic unison attacks under the word ‘Waterloo’. ( Accused Ex. 27 ) Following the stormy pre-chorus calm arrives in the chorus with just one vocal part, acoustic guitar arpeggios and glockenspiel. ( Accused Ex. 28 ) Dead on the downbeat a loud, sustained E minor chord (1:38) puts pay to the moment of tranquillity.

Verse two has the band playing the constant quaver rhythm. A barely perceptible sustained synth reinforces the darkness, taken up by the strings added in the pre-chorus and providing further drama. ( Accused Ex. 29 ) The chorus, now with full band, continues the quaver rhythmic tread, followed by a variant of the verse (3:16ff.) with rising strings heightening the emotional impact. 

The song fades with the full band playing C quavers with the drums eventually playing on every beat of bars. The soft G-F#-E-F# glockenspiel continues to the very end.

St. Cecilia

Dedicated to the patron saint of music, St. Cecilia follows with its soft and delicate arrangement and moderate tempo (crotchet bpm = 80). Again, in C major, but emphasing the Lydian 4th (F#), synthesizer and guitar harmonics are featured. 

The first verse (0:31ff.) passes through a number of varied harmonies: Am-D-D7-Bb-B dim; and then into the pre-chorus (0:59ff.): Am-Am#7-Am7-Am#6-F-G, resolving to C major for the words ‘until I’d learned to pray to St. Cecilia’ (1:12ff.).

The strophic structure continues for the second verse while the Middle8 (2:31ff.) has descending imitative parts in organ, piano and strings. ( Accused Ex. 30 ) Leading directly to a new bridge-like section (2:45ff.) (‘I’ll never find a way to understand’), with strings increasing the texture, the pre-chorus is recapitulated along with its falling chromatic harmony. The coda includes the chorus and, finally, an ethereal synth timbre is heard (3:25). ( Accused Ex. 31 )

Blue Sky

Blue Sky is expansive rock, momentarily returning a listener to previous Colin Vearncombe albums. Its F# minor creates an interruption to the mainly soft material with an intentionally forceful statement. 

The memorable piano hookline (0:05ff.) ( Accused Ex. 32 ), basic harmony (F#m-Bm-F#m-Bm-A-D-F#m-B-D-F-F#m) and sheer momentum propels a listener into the stratosphere. A modulation to the relative major (A) (1:35ff.) is masterful, triggering a transformed version of the opening piano motif. Nothing ever gets away from the initial idea.

The Middle8, with its dried-out vocal, omission of drums and change of harmony (F-D-F#m-A-D-F-F#) creates rhythmic arrest. The song fades on A major, with a very high slide guitar together with distorted guitar leaving Vearncombe’s spoken words ‘For us’ (3:25) at the very end. Glockenspiel (3:23) provides the final bookend ( Accused Ex. 33 ) 

Surrender

St. Cecilia, Blue Sky and Surrender form a triptych of sorts dealing with ethereal-like dimensions: St. Cecilia, the heavenly realm; Blue Sky, a utopian metaphor; Surrender, the imaginary world. Surrender is the only song in triple time (3/4) while all the others are in 4/4. Here the tempo dips to crotchet bpm = 76, making it The Accused’s second-slowest song. 

With a gradually accumulating texture, the song begins with a slow crotchet tread on every beat of the bar in the synthesizer. The chord comprises the top three pitches of a F major 7th quartal chord, which are fractionally anticipated by a C/A natural dyad in another sustained synth. ( Accused Ex. 34 ) Gradually electronic drums are introduced first on a kick-drum ‘heartbeat’ followed by quaver hi-hat beats. ( Accused Ex. 35 ) A bass synth – sounding much like a fretless bass – enters (0:12) playing the root pitch of the F major 7 (F). Electric piano also joins sustaining the C and A naturals. Gradually, the chords descend. ( Accused Ex. 36 ) A bell-like synth provides a foreground melodic line in octaves. ( Accused Ex. 37 )

The introduction, lasting for over a minute, prepare for Vearncombe’s soft, breathy vocal over the chords previously presented in the introduction but with a sudden shift to F# 5ths (1:20) ( Accused Ex. 38 ) Gradually, the chorus appears, prepared by a G major triad (V). It is in the home key of C major, enhanced by a memorable backing vocal line. (Accused Ex. 39) The line introducing it is another example of a descending 5th: here, G-F-E-D-C (7-5-4-2-0). ( Accused Ex. 39 ) The synth bass provides rhythmic momentum. Closing on E7, the soft crotchet tread leads into the sensual second verse. 

The Middle8 has Vearncombe’s vocal rising over a sustained F major7 to E7 repeated oscillation with ascending strings entering (3:19ff.). Vearncombe’s rising line is reminiscent of Scott Walker. The oscillating Fmaj7-E7 (Phrygian) is somewhat like the sustained section of David Bowie’s Space Oddity (1969). The chorus repeats taking the song into a long, slow fade. Essentially, Surrender resembles the final songs on the earlier album: Paradise Lost (Comedy); This Is Life (Black); To Take A Piece (Are We Having Fun Yet?), by creating something of a grand-finale. 

Coda

It is as though with each subsequent album Colin Vearncombe opens a door of musical exploration, allowing more creative light to flood-in on each and revealing new dimensions unavailable to him on previous releases. The Accused opens the door completely both to America and to the acoustic singer-songwriter stance, with songs such as Sleeper and Number One, yet returning to English soil for the central Ghosts. Meanwhile, other songs such as Blue Sky and Surrender touch on previous work alongside 1980s technological timbres. As a balladeer, Vearncombe strikes out on a lone path swimming against the tide of a fashionable collective and continuing to unconsciously reference his own personal emotional core, through comparisons with the likes of Jimmy Webb and Scott Walker. On The Accused he manages to clear away the clutter of the previous decade, with a listener discovering music of a more contemporary nature yet, at the same time, standing on the safe ground of a highly personal style. 

The real transformation, besides the extensive use of acoustic guitars, is with the addition of a real string ensemble, co-written by Vearncombe and Martin Green and expertly arranged by the latter which, in places, is reminiscent of Robert Kirby’s and Harry Robinson’s work on Nick Drake’s first two albums. This pushes the album to new heights. As the start of a second musical period for an artist, nothing could be a finer example than The Accused, with Colin Vearncombe broadening his musical palette to the full. It is a clear indication of things to come.


Author: Andrew Keeling     © 2022 Nero Schwarz Music Limited

To download a PDF version click here.

Footnotes

Footnotes
1Nero Schwarz promotional material.
2Q Magazine.
3Record Collector.
4E-mail from Collin Vearncombe management, 3-01-22.
5E-mail from Camilla Griehsel, 10-02-22.
6E-mail from Martin Green, 14-02-22.
7Ibid.
8Ibid.
9Ibid.
10Ibid.
11Telephone conversation with Boo Hewerdine, 16-04-22.
12E-mail from Martin Green, 2-05-22.
13Telephone conversation with Boo Hewerdine, 16-04-22.
14Ibid.

Leave a Comment:

Your email address will not be published.