sat 19/06/2021

Album: Matt Berry – The Blue Elephant | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Matt Berry – The Blue Elephant

Album: Matt Berry – The Blue Elephant

The man of many talents summons up his musical nirvana

Rather groovy: national treasure Matt Berry

Well this is rather groovy! National treasure and the man with that voice, Matt Berry has been locked away in his lair, channelling the early seventies and twiddling with lots of knobs.

Save for the drums, he plays every instrument (all 19 of them) on this magical mystery tour de force – that includes piano, Wurlitzer, Mellotron, Moog, Hammond, Vox and Farfisa organs. There’s no getting away from it, this man is ridiculously talented. But there’s also no getting away from the fact that you’re half expecting a joke at any moment. That’ll teach him to be so intrinsically funny.

Be that as it may, there are some corking tunes on this album – songwriting being yet another string on his ever-burgeoning bow – so much so that many a full-time musician would sell their firstborn for such a gift. Following the sparse nature of September’s acclaimed release Phantom Birds, the maestro has gone in a completely different direction. The pandemic gave Berry time off filming, allowing him to seriously wig out on the technical side (he engineers his music too) in his seventh album for Acid Jazz (who don’t care if he does something bizarre and unfashionable, he has claimed). Don’t expect Toast timbre here. And although it sounds very contemporary, he’s thrown every 60s/70s effect at the production – from backward-playing vocals to speaker-to-speaker fading.

Opening with the cinematic “Aboard”, what’s to come is a mystery – each song segues into the next. “Summer Sun” then bursts from the headphones (this is how he would like you to experience the album), sounding hugely familiar. Have I heard this before? Or is it simply that this album harks so authentically to another age? This isn’t a humourless pursuit either; there are occasional wry musings – "don’t touch my hair, try not to stare" in the earwormy “Like Stone”, for instance. Another very danceable number (replete with a peculiar cicada noise) “Now Disappear” has the line "such a drag to be set on fire", exuding Bond-esque shimmer and is repeated in a slightly more laid back guise to conclude the album.

The title track, rather audaciously, is an instrumental (although it begins with recreated dialogue from The Elephant Man "you there, step into the light" – see album artwork). Again, it’s complex and engaging, paying no heed to conventional song structure. “Blues Inside of Me” is a funky concoction with layers of detail, some almost slightly out of reach, hints of T Rex and The Doors shifting its shape as it builds. It develops the underlying theme of being a spectacle, of being watched when you’d really like to disappear. 

Thoroughly beguiling and intriguing– and difficult to pigeonhole (prog is often mentioned in relation to Berry but don’t let that put you off), the startling musicianship and soaring melodies of The Blue Elephant make this a perfect summer album. If we ever get one.

@kathrynreillyart

The pandemic gave Berry time off filming, allowing him to seriously wig out on the technical side

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters