Sunday, July 27, 2014

LEVEL 42-Staring At The Sun (1988)


Still tying up a few loose ends with the 'L' entries in my library before I take my music to the next level. Oh wait—I'm already doing that, as I give my first ever presentation about the English band LEVEL 42. Notice I didn't come right out and say the exact genre or music classification, as LEVEL 42's style is really a cool fusion of many different styles—funk, rock, jazz and synthpop being the four main ingredients of that delectable recipe, I'd say. My tale of how I got introduced to Mark King and company is a short one, but one that I feel like I've told so many times over the years. Basically, I confused one of their signature hits as being performed by somebody else. That was 1985's "Something About You", which I actually didn't hear for the first time until well into the New Millennium. Thought it was a TEARS FOR FEARS song, if I remember correctly. Something about the vocals of a then-unknown Mark King sounded so similar to Roy Orzabol's. So naturally, listening to "Something About You", which was an instant hit with me, sparked further curiosity about LEVEL 42, and with that curiosity came even more curiosity about the origin of the band itself, especially about how they came up with the name 'LEVEL 42' in the first place. Thought it had something to do with a video game (me being the computer gaming geek that I am), but turns out it was inspired by a sci-fi novel-turned-TV/movie phenomenon called "The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy". Something for me to check out in the future. Meanwhile, U;ve been playing catch-up to all of the LEVEL 42 songs I either haven't heard before or in a very long time, so today, I wanted to focus on the band's ninth studio album, "Staring At The Sun". A very pleasant listen for the easy-listening audience, the music begins with the triumphant synthesized trumpet intro of the jubilant opener, "Heaven In My Hands". Then marching on after that, there's "I Don't Know Why", of which I like particularly because of the monotonic style that Mark King delivers the song's bridge, and "Take A Look", which I'll have to listen to again in order to ingest the lyrics better because I was so absorbed by the melody, especially when the pitch is taken up in latter parts of the song. But I was all into the lyrics listening to the album's first golden gem, "Over There". Love how it paints a portrait of a fantasy realm of the afterlife. And that bass guitar, which I've understood to be Mark's signature instrumental weapon of choice, is marvelous all throughout! Another stroke of lyrical genius is featured on the gem right after: "Silence". Once the melody soaks in, you'll be easily moved by the inspirational words of wisdom, which tells how people who suffer in their own sorrow still have hope of finding love in the end. I've always compared LEVEL 42's fusion style to that of another favorite fusion band of mine—TOTO—and that comparison fits the bill with Track #6's "Tracie", a perky little tune that reminds me about all of those songs about women that TOTO has been known for: "Rosanna", "Lea", "Angela"..... The album's third gem (yeah, there's quite a few of them) is the haunting title track itself. The slow tempo and the suspenseful ambient mood totally complements the 'staring', as I had this image of someone gazing at the sun setting behind the horizon from afar. And that chilling keyboard arrangement? Makes me stand still and motionless. Very DEPECHE MODE-like, too, considering the unusual lyrics and Mark's vocals on here. Speaking of unusual..... More of that cool fusion that I like is displayed again on Track #9's 7+ minute piece "Man", which enters into an ambient, spacey instrumental stage about midway through with a little bit of spoken word alongside it. And concluding things nicely is a selection that pays tribute to the band's original instrumental-only roots: "Gresham Blues". It's more like "Gresham Jazz' with a hint of rock, particularly when that sexy saxophone spicing things up all throughout. "Staring At The Sun" is just one stage in LEVEL 42, and I recommend playing their other albums as well before you've completed this 'level' altogether:

1. Heaven In My Hands
2. I Don't Know Why
3. Take A Look
4. Over There
5. Silence
6. Tracie
7. Staring At The Sun
8. Two Hearts Collide
9. Man
10. Gresham Blues

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