January 1996 – mini-album reviews – Andrew Booker’s ‘Ahead’ (“a psychological night journey through a cold city”)

15 Jan

Andrew Booker: 'Ahead'

Andrew Booker: ‘Ahead’

If you know the sound of the wind of doubt whipping around tower blocks and insinuating itself through your double glazing, you’ll know this. Andrew Booker‘s twenty-three minute suite of cold lights chills you through your protection in just that way.

Despite the persuasive depth of the production, the simple sound-palette of ‘Ahead’ could have worked against it. The music is little more than chilly sequenced waterfalls of keyboards, restless prog-rock drums, and a voice which blends a boyish purity with the swelling sadness of a man who’s grown up just enough to look over the wall and see the void beyond it. Andrew knows precisely what he’s doing, though, and he leans into it with a passion and honesty that transcends the sonic limitations. With this limited arsenal he etches out the thoughts of a man hermetically sealed into the sterile environment of his car, trapped on a psychological night journey through a cold city, with his stiff English upper lip trembling as he slowly starts going to pieces.

There is tenderness (a moment of open romance on the shy, beguilingly lovely Dreaming Of a Night in Winter) but mostly this is a testament to loneliness: a soundtrack to empty e-mail servers, abandoned urban showcases, untouchable ghost-town neighbourhoods. As the dusk folds around the teeming city blocks in No Fit State, Andrew can find no place to welcome him, no place to shelter from the grind: “there are no more places left for me to fill…”

Walk sees love whip past and away, like a leaf batting a motorway windshield only to be snatched by the slipstream. Vague, disassociated expressions clutch at the tail-end of an affair that’s come apart like a cheap plastic furnishing: “We fought, and we touched, and we hardly met… / The touch of your love chills my jellified flesh… / Don’t lose your mind, a terrible waste…” And the scene is set for a swing away into midnight driving on Run – thrumming with lonesome muzak harmonies, tumbling vocal melodies, a chorus of freezing pilgrims in the background marking time as Andrew journeys on. It’s a case of travel hopefully… but only just.

If motion seems to provide no answers, neither does stasis. Airports has Andrew at the mercy of arbitrary forces: stuck in life’s queue and seething with frustration at the proscribed directions and hold-ups, he flings sarcasm at the consumer sedatives thrust at him in an attempt to shut him up and keep him out of trouble. Twinkling tunes and spooky Latin pop riffage sugar up the stifling messages put forward by “ground control”, but mock where they should soothe.

And by Waiting, Andrew’s rebelling with a howl (talk to me!”) as the live drums thunder and stab at the limits of the sequencers: but his plea for communication gets swallowed up in a tide of garbage, junk mail, and the continuous running (and little close-downs) of the world machine. The little man puts up a fight, steps out and speaks, but can’t escape from his role as a cog. His passionate voice, though, reminds you how urgent it is to make the stand and fight the fight. You get the feeling here of someone who’ll never give up, who one of these days will hurl himself against the imprisoning wall and break it down.

For something so short, ‘Ahead’ is many things. It’s a tribute to cottage industry (Andrew wrote, arranged and produced ‘Ahead’, played every note except for one guitar line, handled all the artwork and only stopped short of refining the plastic to make the CD). It’s an uptight English answer to The Blue Nile; it’s Buggles minus the whimsy. It’s Jon Anderson with his head pulled out of the stars and his heart thrumming with an urban panic attack. It’s the missing link between Tubeway Army’s immaculate electropop, Underworld’s motorway pulse and the fears in Nick Drake’s Black- Eyed Dog.

But above all, it’s very wonderful: hymns to an urban, urbane alienation. A head full of doubt rarely sounded this good.

Andrew Booker: ‘Ahead’
EA Records, EARCD1 (no barcode )
CD-only mini-album
January 1996
Get it from: (2020 update) Best obtained second-hand.
Andrew Booker online:
Homepage Facebook Bandcamp Last FM

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