Salient. Victoria University Students Newspaper. Vol. 38, No. 4, 1975
Spacewaltz featuring Alastair Riddell (EMI)
Spacewaltz featuring Alastair Riddell (EMI)
Most music writers have completely missed the point as far as Alastair Riddell is concerned. He's a smart cookie: he wants to make good music, something which New Zealand has produced very little of up to now. However, he realises that a local artist cannot lay a 'head'-music trip (for want of a better term) on the public, and be musically and commercially accepted; sadly, the New Zealand public has little faith in the abilities of local musicians. Therefore, he figures, he has to put himself in a strong position commercially - become popular and sell lots a records. He looks around at the music scene and asks: 'What is selling at the moment?' The answer? - Bowie and lesser imitators. So he comes up with a strongly Bowies-que single ('Out On The Streets'), has it backed up by strong airplay and a short tour, and the result: a No. 1 hit. The first of many. Once he has thus established himself he can start laying the real thing on us. Which brings me to.....
Ladeez 'n Gennelmen, the finest album yet made in New Zealand.
Spacewaltz is undoubtedly the biggest step forward rock music in New Zealand has made yet. Yes, we can produce world-class material. This is, of course, Riddell's first album and as such is strongly influenced by the Bowie/ Roxy school of vocalese and instrumentalism. Riddell's biggest handicap is that he sounds like Bowie and Ferry rolled into one. There is a certain sameness about much of the material on this album, which is understandable, but this in no way detracts from the music.
Side one opens with 'Fraulein Love', his current Big Hit Single. (A point: on the lyric sheet, next to the title, Riddell writes in brackets, 'Here I say 'ta' to Bryan' - no prizes for guessing Bryan's surname!) This is a perfect opener for the album; a strong, rousing rocker, a great chorus replete with heavy breathing, and some great guitar licks.
Next up is 'Beautiful Boy', which you've probably heard before. A good song, but it's too obvious who it's about and too cliched. Not to worry, next up is 'Seabird', Riddell's magnum opus on this album. A slowish number, starting off with a solid drum beat before Tony Raynor's keyboards come in (Raynor being better known as Split Enz' keyboard wizard). The song ends quietly with the drum beat again and choir-like vocals. Nice one.
Side one closes with 'Out on the Street' and it is a different land better) version than the single, particularly on the chorus.
Side two opens with 'Angel'. This starts off with some stupid noises from producer Alan Galbraith's ARP synthesiser, which are really quite superfluous. The song itself, though, is quite good. Riddell's lyrics seem very much of the city in content, and the music reinforces this. Harsh, almost depressing in content, they deal with similar themes to some of Bowie's work. Actually, one criticism I have of Riddell is that he is too verbose lyrically and the fact that the lyric sheet is very hard to read doesn't help any.
'Open Up' comes next, a slower number and a very full sound from the group. Nice mellotron [unclear: oc] Then we come to the finest slab of pure rock ever made in New Zealand - 'Scars of Love. This song is simply marvellous. A Strong, stomping rocker with an extremely catchy guitar line and a great chorus all of which is underlaid by a strong fuzz guitar/cowbell beat. This should have been the next single. Eats 'Queen Bitch' and 'Suffragette City' for breakfast!
'And Up to Now' is fairly good and features some solid guitar work and nice organ. The album closes with 'Love the Way he Smiles' which musically is the most interesting on the record. The last half of the track is best, featuring some lovely piano work from Raynor and some tight brass/piano interplay. There is an almost dream-like quality about this last section with its chorused 'hip-hip-hoorays' and the background vocals (courtesy of the Yandall Sisters).
Overall, a good first album. The next couple should prove most interesting. My biggest complaint about this one is the recording quality: some of the most unimaginative engineering I've heard since the Beatles. The drums stay in one place, the keyboards stay in one place—whassamatter with EMI? After all, 'Atom Heart Mother' was done, like this one, on an eight-track machine. EMI should send their engineers overseas to learn how to do the job right.
However the music shines through, and this album, I think, heralds a new age in New Zealand rock music. It's high time New Zealand produced something better than the blandness of Creation, Steve Allen and Co. Alastair Riddell is the best thing to hit New Zealand music yet.