Released: April 2018
Reviewed by: Benedict Roff-Marsh
It’s Bill Nelson! Bill Nelson I tells ya!!! I will try ever so hard not to be gushy at this opportunity to review one of my heroes.
Bill may not be a household name like Bowie but nonetheless, there is a certain something (or a few somethings) about Bill’s way of writing and performing his songs and instrumentals that makes him very special to those in the know.
Bill got going back in the early 70’s and had some success with the band Be Bop Deluxe including a hit single, “Ships In The Night”. He pulled the pin on Be Bop in 1979 and eventually went solo with records like “Quit Dreaming And Get On The Beam” & “The Love That Whirls (Diary of a Thinking Heart)” in 1981 & 1982 respectively.
Nelson also accumulated a few Production (and guitar) credits over the years for artists like Gary Numan (Warriors) and A Flocks of Seagulls (Telecommunication).
The solo albums are eccentric but never stray from a sense of melody, poetry and intelligent musicality, even when things don’t quite go as you may have expected them to. I love his unique vision and courage to express it. His records have informed some of my own composing.
About this record Bill says:
‘Drive This Comet Across The Sky’ is a loose, eclectic and highly electric rock album containing twelve tracks, all vocal-based with one instrumental exception. Featuring spontaneous songwriting and casual arrangements, it was laid directly to multitrack without revision or refinement. It twists and turns its way through a landscape of surreal lyrics and cosmic guitars sparking thoughts about the nature of time, love and mortality.
As usual, Bill somewhat underplays his hand here. From that explanation, one might expect a sprawling mess of parts. But because of his innate feel for musicality and Art, the songs are wonderfully engaging and flow really well.
Part of the Bill Nelson sound is his feel for how sound & movement raise and lower the listener so there are ribbons of ambiance that flow through all of his works. A sound may appear just when you don’t expect it and make you feel like everything moves sideways for a moment.
Yet never have I ever felt that the works get sloppy as underneath it Bill Nelson has that same sort of musical intelligence that is found in greats like John Fogerty (Creedence), Brian Wilson (Beach Boys) and Lindsay Buckingham (Fleetwood Mac – well till yesterday anyway).
This record mixes Bill’s guitar playing with his love of electronic sounds so we hear super synthetic sounds, angular Rock guitar, Jazz moments and Bill’s silken android singing. There are elements of chopping the beats up but still very tastefully done. Those moments are the spice to the main offering of the song. Which is exactly as it should be.
When Bill left Be Bop Deluxe he essentially became an Indi artist. He started his own label and gave himself the freedom to create what and when he wanted. Larger record labels did pick up a certain amount of this material (hence the records I mentioned above). This is important to see for modern artists who think that they need someone else to make it happen for them.
This is a great, and broad, interview with Bill from 2011. It is nice to hear the stories and how things got done as well as to see that a successful Indi musician is usually very engaged and articulate. Very willing to share himself and his story.
Nowadays Bill appears to be captain of his own ship with a tight crew of people who do things like run websites for him.
Bill Nelson has a wealth of material from the dense, slightly frenetic, material on “Drive This Comet Across the Sky” to solo acoustic guitar instrumentals on the “Rosewood” Volumes. I may like some more than others but all are quality work.
Again the message I take from this for current Indi types is that Bill has kept himself alive as a recording artist because his material always has that extra something that lifts an artist from simply strumming, chugging, 909ing more of the same, into being a communion that swoops, soars and raises the senses as only the Artist can.