After a hiatus of nearly two decades, Rustin Man – aka former Talk Talk bass player Paul Webb – re-emerged as a recording artist last year with Drift Code, his first album since Out Of Season, a much-admired 2002 collaboration with Portishead’s Beth Gibbons. He’s clearly relishing making up for lost time, because barely a year later, Webb is back again with another meticulously produced offering, one that continues to plough the highly idiosyncratic furrow began by his parent band during their towering late 1980s peak.
Yet while Talk Talk’s masterpiece Spirit Of Eden is a deeply sombre work of awesome, transcendental power, Rustin Man the solo performer is a comparatively whimsical, although still contemplative figure. Webb never sang a single note on a Talk Talk record – that honour was quite understandably reserved for the utterly magical Mark Hollis – but he’s certainly not afraid to put his voice at the centre of Clockdust. A slightly mannered croon, often reminiscent of post-Ziggy Stardust David Bowie, its woozy slur fits rather well with the asymmetric rhythms and unconventional melodies that predominate throughout the record’s nine tracks.
Proceedings open almost jauntily with Carousel Days’ cabaret-style piano, but the mood soon morphs into a nostalgia-tinged lament to the past, adorned by mournfully parping horns. The juxtaposition of different instrumental textures is a consistent feature of Clockdust. Love Turns Her On starts out as a sparse, folky ballad, reminiscent of much of the material on Out Of Season, before a fairground organ and jarring electric guitar feedback propel the song firmly into psychedelic territory. Old Flamingo is a bizarre combination of Syd Barrett-style English eccentricity and vintage spy movie soundtrack; Kinky Living recalls the rambunctious, inebriated swagger of Raindogs-era Tom Waits; Night In The Evening is post-rock doused with dub and ambient.
Everything seems to hang together in its own peculiar way, to deliver an overall experience that’s unfailingly interesting, although perhaps ultimately lacking the truly special, standout ingredients needed to elevate Webb’s solo work to the kind of rarefied levels he helped Talk Talk achieve.