It’s a path that many forty-something musicians tread – they spend years writing great pop songs, and then hit middle age and realise they’re starting to get a bit repetitive, so start pillaging musical styles from other cultures to add a new flavour to their product.
This is what cynics could say about Terry Hall and this new collaboration with former Fun-da-mentalist Mushtaq. The Hour of Two Lights is a melting pot of sounds from Jewish gypsy group Romani Rad, a Mongolian throat singer, an Egyptian violinist, an Algerian rapper, a Turkish percussionist, a Syrian oud player, an Arabian pianist and a Jewish clarinet player. Oh, and Damon Albarn, of course (the album’s released on his label).
Except that if you look back at Hall’s career, he’s never really been one to stick with one genre of music, from the ska punk fusion of The Specials to the trip hop wanderings in Tricky‘s Nearly God project.
In fact, the nearest he’s ever got to being a singer songwriter in the ‘pop’ sense of the word was with 1998’s solo album Laugh. Never one to stand still, either with his music or his collaborators, his slightly maudlin undertones have flavoured many unique and slightly leftfield pop masterpieces, from Ghost Town to The Colourfield‘s Thinking of You.
So given that both Hall and Mushtaq are no strangers to fusing contrasting sounds, how does The Hour of Two Lights fare? Well, on the whole, not bad. The Eastern European stomps of A Gathering Storm and the reggae-tinged Ten Eleven segues into the more middle-Eastern flavoured ‘Sticks and Stones’ as smoothly as any other Terry Hall songs sitting next to each other could. As far as melting pots go, this album has mixed its sum parts and come up with something unique, the success of which I suspect is largely due to Mushtaq’s influence.
That said, it is patchy. The opener, Grow, is ponderous, formless and overblown, as is The Silent Wail, The latter starts with a two-minute long wail which was a little too much for me to stomach – it really should have stayed silent. Most tracks are too long – Hall recently commented in an interview that he wanted to avoid verses, choruses and middle eights, which is all well and good so long as your songs don’t outstay their welcome – the likes of This and That and They Gotta Quit Kicking My Dog Around are repetitive to the point of pointlessness.
The ‘fusion’ aspect of this album will probably remain its principle talking point in years to come. Indeed, there are some interesting ideas here which, given the current international political climate, could probably give broadsheet arts columnists enough material to carry them through a few editions.
However, it’s not particularly accessible – Terry Hall is not one for jolly happy pop songs and there’s not much here to bring a smile to your face. The likes of Missy Elliot are far more likely to be remembered for introducing elements of the East into mainstream pop.