More a renowned producer than individual artist, Chris Merrick Hughes has worked with some major players such as Robert Plant and Paul McCartney but perhaps his production highlights were the excellent first two albums by Bath’s 1980s sensations Tears For Fears. Before that though, he’d tasted massive fame at the height of glam-punks Adam And The Ants’ reign during the early ‘80s, being immortalised within the lyrics for 1981’s Ant Rap as each member of the band was named by Stuart ‘Adam Ant’ Goddard: “Marco, Merrick, Terry Lee, Gary Tibbs and yours truly.”
Eirenic Life is Hughes’ second solo album, following 1994 debut Shift, a collection that explored his admiration of minimalist composer Steve Reich, whom his father had taken him to see in an eye-opening moment at the age of 18. The album reworked several pieces by Reich to much critical acclaim, if not commercial recognition. Eirenic Life is the result of a decision made three years ago to tear himself away from his production day job and focus attention on a new solo album. Named in honour of the Greek goddess of Peace, Eirene, the collection offers a semblance of peace in response to recent political instability and uncertainty.
Opening with the 13-minute Prelude/NSV, Eirenic Life starts as it means to go on, gently easing into the fray with piano tinklings interrupted by completely silent pauses of the sort to make you think the track has finished before reawakening; in fact, it’s almost representative of a hypnopompic state. Yet the intermittent nature of the composition can cause the mind to wander, although as the track slowly gains a little momentum after some curious scraping sounds reminiscent of wheels turning slowly, its final two-minute flurry of repetitive, delicate ambience backed minimalist piano riff is beautiful.
The eight-minute The Girl With The Jesus Towel is another example of Hughes’ piano skills as intricate noodlings pick a path through a sense of complete serenity, at odds somewhat with the “noisy” surroundings of London’s Victoria & Albert museum in which recording took place. Again, its intermittent construction may lead minds to meander, but if you like the idea of the calmness music can bring then the lack of a singular direction won’t be much of a problem.
A brief 47-second interlude – Exmoor Pony Gavotte – is bright and airy, featuring a squeaky old gate Hughes encountered whilst on a country walk. Single Dily’s Dream, a track inspired by his “nervy rescue” cat’s peaceful sleeps, is full of the joys of spring, Hughes somehow conveying feelings of hope into his creation with its lively, bouncy and uplifting nature, conjuring up images of animals awakening after hibernation, nervously yet optimistically foraging for food: symbolic of hope for a new dawn, perhaps.
Employing a little electronica, Tenemos Historia shifts the focus, this time piano notes punctuating the ambience like pinpricks of light at daybreak. Concluding the collection is the nine-minute Safe Warm Sun (Calm Ending), which, according to Hughes, is “the eirenic part, aiming for peace and no bigotry”, serving as a microcosm of the entire album with its overwhelming sense of tranquillity.
There aren’t many pianists managing to branch out to more mainstream audiences, Ludovico Einaudi being the exception, largely thanks to his numerous TV and film soundtrack contributions, most notably the This Is England series. Hughes isn’t about to change that with Eirenic Life, but this work offers a warming, soothing relaxation state that is a welcome antidote to the troubles of everyday life currently engulfing us, and may appeal to fans of Brian Eno in particular.