Crime & The City Solution front man Simon Bonney has drawn together songs from his last two albums – 1992’s Forever and Everyman from a couple of years later, along with hald a dozen unreleased tracks, including a cover of Scott Walker’s ‘Duchess’, and released them through Mute with the title ‘Past, Present, Future.
From the opener, the rather lovely Ravenswood, the tone of the album is already set. Gentle, swooning melodies are wrapped up in horns, the trill of the organ, and the sighs of the pedal steel guitars. As one who grew (and indeed contained the same members) as The Birthday part and The Bad Seeds, Nick Cave looms large. If not in the background, then maybe some kind of shared courtyard, as the two with their differing baritones are able to deliver the withering, the brooding, the suffocating on occasion, is displayed consistently through the record. The influence that they have passed over to the likes of Mark Lanegan, with whom he’s touring America this month, is clear.
As the album unravels, so two of the albums best tracks feature, with both ‘Don’t walk away from Love’ and ‘There Can Only Be One’ able to hold you in the palm of their collective hands, and then lets you float down in a melancholy haze at the chorus’. Where Trouble Is Easier To Find continues in a similar vein, but guitars and brass whip up the ending into a frenzy where Bonney is joined by a choir on backing vocals, making it an almost spiritual Conclusion.
Before the records centre-piece, a sprawling ten minute murder ballad ‘Everyman’, comes the ‘A sweeter kind of pain’, a track which manages to keep the listener yearning from beginning to end, partly through Bonney’s pensive vocal line, partly the weight of the melodies that pull at your heartstrings.
Bonney doesn’t do a great deal with Duchess when it arrives, just presents it as it is. Luckily, as is the case with much of Scott Walker’s cannon, the song stands up for itself. Whereas The Great Survivor meanders, albeit with these pointed guitar interjections and the sort of thing The War on Drugs deal in, ‘Forever’ sails closer to Nick Cave. Without ever really sound like duplication because it has merits of its own, more inhabiting similar waters.
Anabelle Lee sees Bonney take on, or at least tip his hat at Poe’s poem, as it unravels into one of the albums highlights – Bronwyn Adams violin the principal weapon in this assault on the emotions, while Eyes of Blue sees Bonney grow edgier and more desperate by the minute.
The album finishes with Can’t believe anymore, complete with violin/guitar wig out (full on) pinning your ears to the floor and demanding you take notice. If this compilation, because essentially that’s what it is, does anything then it showcases the work of a largely neglected great singer-songwriter. But more than that, it seems that after a long period of time where Bonney had seemingly given up on music, this collection of songs, and the live dates he is doing at the moment clear the way for the future, and that has to be a good thing.