Album Reviews

Rob Dickinson – Fresh Wine for the Horses

(Sanctuary) UK release date: 12 September 2005

When I have an album to review, I like to approach it much as I would a courtship. Within the first 15 seconds of the first date I know whether it’s going to go well. Then I take it for a spin in the car, call it up at work, take it with me on a trip to the park. I spend some time with it, see it in a few different settings, and try to work out whether it’s the one or just wasting my time.

As I slipped Rob Dickinson’s new album into my CD player, I’ll admit, there was an initial rush of infatuation. Gripped by the Wonderwall style opening to first track My Name Is Love and appreciative of the Neil Finn vocal style, I felt this could be something special. Sure, the production was a little bombastic, reminiscent of Matchbox Twenty, but it was infused with joy – how could one resist the sugar rush?

As the album span on its axis, I remained interested, but began seeing sides I wasn’t that fussed about. A little bit of Lightning Seeds on Oceans and Peter Gabriel on The Night offered me something less. There was some take-it-or-leave-it Neil Diamond soul in Mutineer. Then I swooned over Intelligent People and allowed myself to giggle coyly at Rob’s barely disguised snobbishness.

I was less interested in the rather dull Handsome and Bathe Away, which reminded me of early Chris de Burgh, but still felt positive about the space he was giving us. He rocked me gently with touches of his old band, The Catherine Wheel, on The Storm. Bad Beauty felt like we were making love to an Elliott Smith song. Don’t Change felt positively post-coital in its Dark Side of the Moon Floydianism. After such an intoxicating night, Towering and Flowering felt like a bad hangover but hey… no joy without pain, eh? By the end of a few dates, I wasn’t absolutely sure, but I knew I had the butterflies.

But then, one morning, I realised I wasn’t going to fall in love. As I stood in front of the shaving mirror, I started humming the jingle for Gillette. “The best a man can get!”. Hold on… that’s the chorus to… Intelligent People by Rob Dickinson! I began to feel… cheated. Then I thought about the cover. The Davidoff advert hair. The water. My interest in Rob was nothing but an interest in… male grooming! I listened to the CD one more time and realised it was over.

Now I’m left puzzled by the whole experience. What does “Fresh Wine for the Horses” mean? Why is he pouring sea horses he looks like he’s won at a fair out of a plastic bag full of water? Why do I suddenly feel so empty?

Rob will go a long way sounding like this. He will have affairs with many other music lovers who appreciate his husky baritone, his grasp of chiming melodies and his thoughtful lyrical approach and idiosyncratic turn of phrase. And me? I guess, I’ll always have that precious moment when we first met, before it all went wrong.

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Rob Dickinson – Fresh Wine for the Horses