William D Drake is so entwined with the music and history of Cardiacs that even though he left the group in 1990 and has released four solo albums prior to Revere Reach, there will always be the association with his previous employers over at The Alphabet Business Concern. Whilst Cardiacs is often thought of as the creation of Tim Smith’s magical mind, in the years that Drake was with the band his keyboards and contributions were as fundamental in shaping the band’s sound and aesthetic as Smith’s songwriting.
When Cardiacs did their much celebrated three-day stint at the Garage to run through their historic material, I met Bill and asked him why he’d left the band. He told me “the thing is, you never really leave Cardiacs”. Listening to Revere Reach, it is plain to see that there’s a lot of truth in that statement and it poses the question of whether once exposed to Cardiacs as musician (let’s not get into what happens to the fans) there’s quality to that band that lingers in the blood, the mind and the fingers. Yet whilst there is certainly there’s a lot of Cardiacs’ sound and feel to Revere Reach, it should be pointed out that Mr Drake bought a fair share of his own idiosyncrasies to the band too, and they’re all over this album in (all) spectacular fashion.
By enlisting an impressive roll call of musicians to help him out (including the Larcombes of Stars In Battledress, Stephen Gilchrist and Andrea Parker), Drake has created his most rounded and impressive album to date. His piano and voice are still very much the focus of attention, but where once there was space, there are now all encompassing beautiful melodies. In Converse’s classical tones provide a perfect example as Drake and Andrea Parker entwine vocals beautifully over a simple piano line and some utterly haunting woodwind exposition.
The album opens in slightly more uptempo and jaunty fashion with Distant Buzzing a song whose pop-nuances sound out of place with the wistful folk influences found elsewhere on the album. Amongst honking brass, swirling woodwind, and a stomping joyful hook sits Drake and his piano, musing on nature, metal men, life, death and donkeys.
Lifeblood’s folk inflections are pure Wicker Man, pulling influences from Scotland and from sea shanties. Celebrating spontaneity and individuality, its intentions are perhaps a little less terrifying than Lord Summerisle’s, but none the less it’s a heartfelt invocation. Heart Of Oak continues in a nautical vein, lilting like a ship on a gentle sea. As Drake intones “we will fight and we will conquer again, our worthy forefathers let’s give them a cheer” it opens up into a celebratory and defiant romp. There’s more seafaring to be found in the tinkling charm of Liferaft and the lost at sea metaphors of Castaway’s aching tones.
Elsewhere there’s the playful nursery rhyme hop of The Catford Clown which manages to perform a few neat prog-rock inflections and combine them with some folk motifs that practically beg for a hey-nonny-no. A Husk is sad ruminations of the life of strawman draw on aspects of folk whilst twisting into a genuinely affecting hymnal lament that at times seems barely there. It’s left to the ominous pounding drums at the song’s close that nod towards Cardiacs’ Home Of Fadeless Splendour bring things into sharp focus.
The title track is utterly glorious and a masterclass in nuance. At times it’s an elegant waltz, dancing with carefree ease and yet there’s a sorrowful undercurrent that refuses to go unchecked. It’s perhaps one of the most effective and perfectly realised songs in Drake’s solo work. It has hidden depths that slowly reveal themselves with every listen. It’s a quality that is true of many of the songs on the album, and repeated listens yield quite wonderful rewards.
As a stand alone work, Revere Reach is at times quite astonishing. It will, naturally, delight Cardiacs fans, but it is an album that deserves to reach a far wider audience.