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Man's A Wolf To Man: Andy Taylor album review

 

"A pandemic album, and a cancer album, and a state-of-the-world album, but still a triumph of joyful, uplifting music.”

 

With such an expansive brief, the press release for Andy Taylor's new album, Man's a Wolf to Man, teeters on promising a cure for world hunger. It follows that having set out his stall, interviews steer into existential terrain. Journalists have been uncharacteristically generous with our indoor firework; Andy mischievously delights in going off-piste live on air, using his new found perspective living with cancer to dissect the lyrical message rather than the musicianship. I vacillate between laughter and dread as I listen to the deadpan delivery of "the world according to Andy Taylor." Here's a man with negative fucks left to give, bar the ones he wants his descendants, and maybe his fans, to inherit. 

 

Rewind pre-cancer to 2016, CEO of BMG, Hartwig Masuch, a self-professed “long-time fan,” facetimed Andy out of the blue to convince him to write a new album. Whilst AT warmed to Masuch’s lack of “lizard-like tendencies,” he turned down the request for a Power Station reunion. “Most of The Power Station are dead. Even John Taylor has come close a couple of times,” he told Mausch. “I did have someone call Duran’s office about John, but I think at the time it was just not going to be possible. Not just scheduling, but we weren’t at a place where we could do it,” describing the reply as a “cold message from his management.” Individual revelations littered across interviews hint at strained relations between the two Taylors when compared with the evidently warmer relationship between Andy and Simon.

 

To his credit, John was indeed busy; this is the same 2016 when he was writing a ballet-cum-musical with Nick that has never since seen the light of day. Mausch had assured Andy he could take his time, time he would need. The 2019 planned release came and went much to the bewilderment of fans, who were unaware of his stage-four metastatic prostate cancer diagnosis the year previously.

 

It seemed that the latest album would join the swollen ranks of unreleased Andy material. The pandemic in 2020 threw the entire industry into disarray and Andy expected BMG to let the project go once it was over, but they didn’t. “We’re both [Duran and AT] on BMG and the label has supported me for a long time, which is quite rare,” he told Rolling Stone, “and I’ve never been one to screw up good relationships with people in the business.” 

 

Bolstered by the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame pending induction, and at his wife Tracey’s persuasion, he reclaimed the vocals from Gary Stringer (Reef) who had sung on earlier versions of the album. He finally finished it earlier in 2023.

 

A week after the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame event (October 2022), Simon visited Andy in Ibiza, bearing a magnum of Dom Pérignon, followed by an invitation to play on a few tracks on Duran Duran’s Danse Macabre, which they both recorded in Andy's home. 2023 has been a bumper year for Andy fans.

 

At first glance, Man’s A Wolf To Man has been seven years in the making, shaped by a life altering illness, a global pandemic and the rise of fascism both sides of the Atlantic. In reality, the gestation period of the album stretches into decades; Andy reworks two tracks of his own material from the nineties / noughties.

 

The album navigates through anger, despair, and gratitude, whilst leaning heavily on idealism to dispel the fear and shame he describes about the world we are leaving behind. Having spent years producing and co-writing songs for others, he likens the self-indulgence of this album as "setting the table" for himself.

 

The political discourse provides Andy a good jump off point to discuss Duran’s unreleased album Reportage, censorship by Sony, the absence of political music in pop and what came first. Pink Floyd get mentioned repeatedly, it is all feeling a bit Roger Waters-y. Oh dear. If it is hard to hear the political musings of a sun-soaked expat, and longtime semi-retired rockstar, ask yourself firstly how these topics would be received in interview from Nick Rhodes, (leather clad art auction aficionado and virtual reality resident), and then if you really want to hear Reportage?

 

Man’s a Wolf To Man has been moulded by the pressure to make a career defining album and avoid leaving a "trail of creative turds" (his words). It pays tribute to his musical influences, including the Stones, Thin Lizzy, T-Rex, Bowie, Duran, Chic, and psychedelic Britpop. The result is therefore inconsistent and dated in parts. A bit like Duran’s Astronaut, it doesn’t sound like a cohesive body of work written in one sitting. As he tells Rolling Stone, "It’s sort of an album with two halves. The first half was around the start of the pandemic when I got diagnosed with cancer, and I’m not doing so well. Then I get a new treatment and I get my life extended and finish the record off."

 

“The album was all made in one room, with one or other of Ricky (Warwick - replacement Phil Lynott in Thin Lizzy) and Mattias (Lindblom),” he tells Classic Pop Mag. “I don’t think you need more than two people to write a song, despite the current pop world’s way of eight writers on everything." He’s had a lighter, seven-pound guitar made by Fender, “which really helps.”

 

Which brings us to the album.

The title track is a musical triumph. Well-paced and developed layering of melody, emphatic vocal delivery and driving rhythm, complemented by rich backing vocals. The subject provides ample space for Andy's soapbox. The cult of personality, stoking racism and outrage to fracture people for power play (Trump and Boris Johnson). He's tired of England fighting wars, though his reference points are conveniently post-colonial. Despite advocating for democratization, he appears staunchly opposed to Ukrainian / European response to the Russian invasion as directed by a comedian (Zelensky). We are, he argues, but puppets at the mercy of the power greedy, but through the lens of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza or the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it's jarring to hear the lines "you pretty little thing, it's about your freedom". Maybe that’s the intent, to distil the endless bloodshed and trauma to something that fits in a sentence. 9.5/10

 

Influential Blondes is just too slow throughout. Unlike other tracks on the album, it doesn't leave itself enough road developmentally - the key change in the chorus and a sax-solo-by-numbers can't sustain my interest. The lyrics seem overstretched in the chorus "influentuuuuuuuuaaal blondes" it all feels a bit cumbersome. It has a few catchy hooks and vocal embellishments towards the end, and great backing vocals. It's an obvious homage to Bowie but lacks the theatre of his idol. It's not a bad song, an acapella first verse and slight shift in tempo could have saved it. He stays on topic lyrically, telling Salon magazine it's about the rise of fascism, both politically and culturally. There's a line in the song, “Signed your name, silence is blue," he explains. "As soon as you sign the contract, the NDA shuts you down" and one is left wondering after a lifetime in the industry, what secrets his own blue ink holds? 4/10

 

The opening of Did It For You reminds me of Pearl Jam, before shapeshifting into a shameless Young Americans style chorus (which is great). The transition doesn't wholly work but there’s only two more lines of Eddie Vedder in verse two before we're back to the real song. Clever layering gives the second verse legs even after a big first chorus which containing fabulous little orchestral runs that recall Bowie's Starman, whilst the piano nods to Elton John and early Billy Joel. A harmonica solo outstays its welcome as the song closes and is perhaps best left for live performances, I reflect uneasily. "It's a complicated feeling" indeed, but nothing can quash the joy of living imbued in this track. You would need a heart of stone not to be elevated by it. 7.5/10

 

There's not a lot to say about Try To Get Even, a grudge shedding duet with Tina Arena. Tina returns a favour after Andy guested on her own Linblom-produced album, Love Saves. I'm enjoying Andy's vocal tone here, his range isn’t huge but his voice is still great. The whole arrangement is well paced and developed, which mostly compensate for the lack of lyrical variety and it is a welcome gentler moment on the record. 6.5/10

 

Reachin Out To You will find a natural home in the heart of Duranies, echoing the uptempo funk of Notorious. Described as a working class lyric, “We’re closing down the factories / All our bills are due.”

 

"I was thinking about the Seventies" he tells Rolling Stone. "When it happened to my dad’s generation. We had a glorious steel industry and a lot of fossil stuff, which was really poisonous when I was a kid. But that shit is true. In the UK, the disparity between high wealth and poverty is exactly the same as in the Victorian period. You have a ruling class that you can’t move". This train of thought makes it to the album cover, and is also, I like to think, a touching tribute to his Dad.

 

It seems a shame to "set the table" for a meal of programmed horns on a bed of drum machines, with - shockingly for a guitarist - nary an organic riff in sight. Insanely catchy, completely in the Duran wheelhouse but the immediacy wears off quickly, very much let down in its production. 6/10

 

Getting It Home is a curious single choice, simple melody and vacuous lyrics that will only enthuse the most diehard 80s American rock fans. It developed from Quicksand, a song written and recorded in 1999-2000 and re-recorded for the never released Burger Kingdom album (c.2009). Redeemed marginally by strong backing vocals. 3/10.

 

The Last Straw, he tells Salon magazine is about "straw men that are created", i.e. distorting an opposing position into an extreme version of itself and then arguing against that extreme version. I love the moody opening, I'm reminded a bit of the intro to Dire Straits Brothers in Arms, punctuated with a syncopated drumbeat and adorned with a fluid yet agile guitar solo. Both the chord progressions themselves and the numerous key changes serve as micro and macro melodies respectively. 9/10

 

This Will Be Ours is a jaunty, folky-cum-rockabilly number, think 90s Northern Britpop-ers Cast or The Bluestones. Was this track originally penned in the 90s too? It meanders along in a very predictable fashion, the listener is rewarded with ability to pre-empt the direction of the melody. It's embellished with melodic runs that are a signature trademark of the songwriting on the album. Thematically, it touches on gratitude for a shared life journey and reigning over a kingdom of happy memories. Like the aforementioned bands, it doesn't offend or excite. 5/10

 

Gotta Give nods to The Rolling Stones and T-Rex but younger fans will probably find a more relevant touchpoint with Primal Scream. I'm not big on forced joviality, and these foot stompers sit firmly in that territory for me. Lyrically, it's a bit cliche ridden, bordering on a parody of the craggy rock veteran “burnin' alive in a three piece suit." We can squarely blame Warwick for this one. Maybe it only takes one person to write a song after all, and not even two. On a positive note, the brass section is fun and a personal weakness of mine. 6/10

 

Big Trigger is another track developed from Burger Kingdom. The subject of the song has changed from female to male, and "fat" has become "fact", but the "burgers for feet" remain. Thematically both "fact" and "fat" fit the album's theme as a diatribe against obese white men in power with a soft spot for fast food. However, in this post fat-shaming age, it draws more subtle parallels with fast food; namely, how algorithms and political interference feed us fast data and addictive, short-lived, validatory highs that support our cognitive bias but fail to nourish our sense humanity. Overtly cheeky and flippant lyric with hidden depths, I am ironically sustained.

 

The static noise and orchestral opening give this song a final track aura. It’s a quite nasal, is it just a result of stretching his range or to tie in with the excessive static overlay? The arrangement here is fantastic though, the guitars blend seamlessly with the orchestral parts. Again, the development of this song is perfectly paced. Time and time again throughout the album we are reminded that Andy is a fine guitarist, but he is a maestro of song writing, and since he vacated his chair in Duran Duran, the remaining four band members cannot set the table for themselves. 8.5/10.

 

However, what is the point of the Man’s A Wolf To Man (reprise) other than to suggest Andy was struggling to find another stormy, existential closer? Surely there was another track in the vaults? "Read it once but on repeat" indeed. 4/10

 

Overall, this is album reaches glorious highs only to be followed by pedestrian mediocrity, and the uneven results are reflected in scores above. There's a sense that Andy has tried to cram a lifetime of influences and life lessons into this album. It is only now as the album goes to market that some of that time-critical urgency has given way to fresh optimism, and possibly more music.

 

Since August this year, Andy has been receiving novel treatment, involving the intravenous administration of target-specific radioactive chemicals into cancer cells. "I thought it was gonna be the last album I ever made. Now it's the first," he tells Salon magazine. "It's the beginning of something that I didn't think I'd have. [It's] not just a new chapter. It's like a new book - of life."

 

References

 

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