Album Reviews

Youth – Spinning Wheel

(Cadiz) UK release date: 19 November 2021

Youth - Spinning Wheel Wait, just checking, this is Youth’s debut solo album? Yes, this is musician and producer Martin “Youth” Glover’s first foray under his own name despite a career lasting over 40 years, that has taken in the monolithic rage of Killing Joke, dance euphoria with Blue Pearl, dub and Orbient soundscapes, acting as midwife to psy-trance with Dragonfly Records, and creating pastel pop sketches with Paul McCartney in The Fireman. And this album sounds like exactly none of these. Wait, just checking, this is that Youth’s debut solo album, right?

The album was inspired by the ’70s rock and pop that Youth consumed when, err, a youth, but for the most part these aren’t the primary reference that leaps to mind. The title track and single has a misty folk-pop shimmer that resembles The Lilac Time, and a refrain that’s only a long flower-child hair’s breadth from Instant Karma, and what this album most often sounds like is a smoky ’90s studio-bound post-indie outfit playing with ideas from that moment where the ’60s collapsed into the ’70s. This approach works best on Pure, which boasts a somnolent plodding rhythm, ghostly swooping strings and a general wooziness that sounds like a sleepy young Ride swiping ideas from Venus In Furs; similarly, Charlotte Says starts – as the title might suggest – like a Lou Reed song, but one without the ornery gruffness, all edges being smoothed and all corners bevelled in a pleasing fashion. This album works best at moments like this, sweet and soothing – not exactly ambient, but soft and comforting like a nest of scatter cushions.

Sha La Laa I Love You is the track that addresses the pre-punk musical landscape most obviously, celebrating the pubescent arms-aloft bubblegum singalongs of The Bay City Rollers from a knowing distance, and if it never quite manages to capture the melancholy undertow to pop nostalgia that Jarvis Cocker or Luke Haines might bring to the table, it’s an infectious little nod towards one of the few windows of pop history that has not undergone a major revival or reappraisal.

There is a hint of the elegant patchouli waft of Tim Buckley or John Martyn around hippy ditties The King Of The Losers or Hear The Dolphins, which float by relatively likably, but Charcoal Man attempts the full naïf nursery rhyme Syd Barrett approach, dealing with the titular rustic labourer living in a bag at the bottom of the garden and doling out folksy wisdom like a noble savage Cottingley fairy: despite a briefly intriguing Mr Kite circus interlude it ends up rather too feather-light, concluding tritely that people are lonely and that we’re all “prisoners of our luxury”. The album’s only true nadir, though, is Smiling, the sort of cheekily crappy demo doodle you’ll probably find at the far reaches of the recent multi-disc Let it Be package. This is the only point on the album where there’s no evidence of a born producer’s sonic fingerprint, and even if some of the songs are thin and Youth’s voice more functional than flashy, there’s always a sonic warmth emanating from the speakers.

Spinning Wheel ends well with Close My Eyes, a refined rootsy amble that sounds something like Noel Gallagher toying with unusually introspective lyrics, concluding with a nearly four-minute outro that builds on a single repeated phrase in a fashion that’s part Hey Jude, part Shang A Lang, and part Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space. Just before Youth and his melody disappear into the sunset, tartan scarf flapping the breeze, he promises a “dance together barefoot in the sand”. Fair enough, but perhaps some of us would prefer another go at dancing naked in the rain, instead.

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Youth – Spinning Wheel