Theoretically, James Stevenson leapt to my attention, on the Liverpool leg of The Cult’s Electric 13 tour, where bewitched by his spellbinding guitar, in symbiotic synthesis with Billy Duffy’s, I wondered why I had not knowingly been aware of his talents before. In practice, I was already an unknowing accolade when a remix of ‘Desire’ lit up my electronic dance eyes, leading me back to the original, and on to Gene Loves Jezebel. Things get a bit confusing; identical Aston twins splitting into two shock haired Twix sticks, sharing same branded band name wrapper; James stepping into what became UK camp of Gene Loves Jezebel in the mid 90's.
Even though there is no discernible listing on their 1986 single, ‘Sweetest Thing’/ ‘Psycho II’; one of my favourites; released on London’s Beggar’s Banquet label, I assume its distinctive, astringent, steely slash of clamouring guitar is James. In which case, The Cult gig brought me face to face with a previously mysterious amour. Still playing with Gene Loves Jezebel, James, musical floozy, has flitted and flirted with many other lustrous musical beings; vamp to Billy Idol sneer in Generation X; tending to Kim Wilde before she turned to weeds; forming cool Hot Club with Pistol’s Glen Matlock; re-wiring The Alarm with Mike Peters; cruising with Glen Matlock and Clem Burke of Blondie, as an International Swinger; and of course, indoctrination into The Cult. The list goes on; James Stevenson is certainly prolific and proficiently multilingual in musical tongues.
However, from my tinklings on piano and dubious dabbling in electronic music making, I have a small inkling how a musician, who is part of a band, might also be plagued by a mind full of musical notions, bubbling potions, which joint ventures, even those as incendiary and varied as James’s, cannot fuse into chimerical compounds envisaged by his own imaginings. Taunted by tickle of melodic line, weaving through dream state head, begging beguilingly for release, there must be a time when dam breaks and it’s time to take the plunge; this is James’s time.
So, when he offered Mudkiss his own debut solo EP for review, I was more than interestedly intrigued to glimpse inner musical soul of this prodigious musician, see him naked, unmasked; especially as he has enlisted carefully chosen stellar cast for his elucidation. ‘The Shape Of Things To Come’ - three toed testing of water for anticipated album, ‘Everything's Getting Closer To Being Over’; is no slouching sloth, more crouching tiger, muscles honed, coiled, primed to leap. A gloriously tangled, incestuous , star struck affair, from names alone it is easy to see the esteem in which James Stevenson is held; eager to be part of this musical manifestation, fantasy band realised, materialised ;Glen Matlock and Craig Adams (Sisters of Mercy, The Mission and more) on respective basses; Mark Taylor (The Alarm) on keyboard; Steve Norman (Spandau) on saxophone; Chris Bell (Thompson Twins) and Igor Marjanovic (Thin Lizzie and Edwin Collins amongst others) on drums; backed by Elizabeth Westwood (musician and James’s wife) and singer Tracie Hunter (daughter of Mott The Hoople Ian Hunter), in their Pistilettos guise, Mick Ronson’s sister Maggi making threesome which morphs into marvellously punned Sexpistilettos; sexy, pissed and in stilettos, who could resist such a pedigree?! As James modestly forgoes crediting himself, I make a leap in assuming guitars and vocals are his.
Of such bedfellows are dreams or nightmares made; so which is this? Opening song, ‘Suzi’s Problem’ is dramatic start; swingeing, soaring, huskily gruff guitar riffs, buffeted by warm breeze of drums, wheel through echoed mists which part to reveal James’s unexpectedly sultry voice; surreally silky skein of dusky bass and gentle caress of soaring aaahh, aaahh, angelic harmonies, wrap round him like gossamer wings, piano crying crystal tears. With instantly memorable, emotively weeping, surging, sweeping, grandiose guitar arias; classic cinematic soft rock, hinting at opera, washed with watercolour psychedelia, halcyon epic, drowned in waterfall torrent of hazy sound.
True it sounds like amalgam of well loved songs that have played before; strangely hint of slowed down, ‘Down In The Tube Station At Midnight’, creeps in, probably my febrile imagination; so there is an element of déjà vu, but melodic phrases are so impeccably stitched together into beautiful fabric of sound, it doesn’t really matter that some of them are borrowed and buffed. ‘Naturally Wired’ growls with gloriously jarring grate of guitar distortion, perfectly polished jagged teeth, in ‘Come Together’ riffs, snarling, biting deep , riding writhing buttocks of squirming, slipping ,sliding, intense dark chocolate bass. Tawdry twisted vocal and teasing drums lend sweet sleaze to pile driving, mesmeric, rhythmic tantalisation, punctured by pound of heavy Kiss metal rousing chorus, psycho stabbed by spiky synth, guitar viperous snake, twisting, turning, lecherously sneering, lilting, swaying; tongue in cheek, sublimely sordid, seedy side to James.
Final song, ‘Been A Long Time Now’ slides between silky sheets of sexily laid back ballad, James’s romantic side shining in glimmer of shimmering guitar and synth, wandering fingers of liquid bass slinky caress, drums rise and fall of heaving chest. Squealing into squall of nerve tingling guitar ecstasy, ravishing saxophone in euphoric rhapsody, oozing sensuality, tangling tongues with prickling guitar, lost in hedonistic psychedelic mist; most original sounding of the songs.
Three beautifully conceived and crafted pieces, in perfect harmonious balance; exceptional musicality delivered with deceptive, enviable ease, as would be expected from such a cosmic crew; while guitar is definitely the star, there is an inherent modesty which restrains excess, allows space for all musical voices to be heard.
Without concept of the album to link these delectable enticements, whilst illustrating breadth of James’s musical talents and taste, there is a certain discontinuity, slightly disconcerting disparity, but essence which imbues them all is brightness and lightness of being; warm glow of James’s personality which radiates love of music and life; endearing zest and passion, impossible not to fall for. Honoured by a glimpse of Stevenson soul, I look forward to full glory of his epiphany, when the album lands at my door.www.jamesstevenson.info
Review by Chumki Banerjee