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The Durutti Column - Someone Else's Party

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Artist: The Durutti Column

Album: Someone Else's Party

Label: Artful

Review date: May. 18, 2003

Mourning and Melancholia

Early in the movie 24 Hour Party People, we encounter Vini Reilly (as played by Raymond Waring) performing to a bunch of largely uninterested punters. Someone asks Tony Wilson (Steve Coogan) what this rubbish is, or words to that effect. This, he responds, is avant-garde.

Without plunging into a spurious debate about aesthetics and rock music (Wilson also compares Shaun Ryder to Yeats…) you can see what he's getting at with his assessment of the Durutti Column. He's wide of the mark with "avant-garde" - if anything, Reilly's music harks back to pre-20th century aesthetic standards, not any dadaist weirdness--but certainly his work shows all the classic signs of artistic value. It satisfies the sort of canonic criteria for evaluating "the work of art" that pipe-smoking emeritus professors in four-piece tweed suits refuse to relinquish: it has a timeless quality; it displays a definite sense of craft; it has no commercial dimension or mass appeal; it has a certain beauty; and it bears the mark of a distinctive, unique authorial vision.

When it comes to a distinctive artistic style, those who know about such things often claim that you only need to hear one guitar note to identify the presence of Jeff Beck on a record. The same could be said of Vini Reilly. Of course, Beck's brand of showy ax-work is light years from Reilly's fragile, understated sound, but the Mancunian's playing is as instantly recognizable. Since 1979's The Return of the Durutti Column, his echo-laden guitar minimalism has remained an unmistakable signature.

If we were to make some Tony Wilson-esque literary comparisons, Beck, with his muscular blues-rock guitar heroics, would be the swashbuckling protagonist of a 19th-century adventure novel in the Robert Louis Stevenson vein. The haunting, delicate atmospherics of Reilly, on the other hand, call to mind another, very different literary type, conjuring up images of a doomed, dejected (and consumptive) individual given to sighing and languishing: Reilly is the archetypal Romantic (guitar) hero.

Put more simply though, Reilly's music has always had an impossibly sad feel to it. It's not that it's about being miserable and it could never be mistaken for the kind of self-indulgent fare favored by sullen adolescents. It cuts deeper than that. Reilly's austere melodies are a conduit for a universal sense of melancholy, a timeless sadness beyond words.

Someone Else's Party evokes the same general aura of melancholy as previous Durutti Column albums, which is a little ironic since, this time, the sadness can be linked to a very specific loss in Reilly's own life. Perhaps because of that, the feeling here may be even more powerful than in the past.

Written and recorded as his mother was dying, the album has been described by Reilly as his most personal work to date, a therapeutic project that helped him with his bereavement. Notwithstanding markedly personal elements--such as an answering machine message from his mother at the end of the album's closing track--Reilly's musical rendering of his grief achieves a universal resonance. The results are remarkably moving.

Made at home for about £350 ($560), mostly on an 8-track machine, Someone Else's Party is an especially lo-fi affair; in places, Reilly even uses a book as a bass drum and a sheet of paper as a hi-hat, although you'd never know it. These contemplative, ethereal guitarscapes, occasionally supplemented with a smattering of additional instrumentation, show continuity with earlier Durutti Column recordings. On the jazz-tinged instrumental "Blue," for instance, Reilly crafts familiarly intricate electric and acoustic layers. "Requiem for My Mother" combines sparse percussion, ornate, iridescent guitars, and Reilly's blurry, affectless vocals to subtly hypnotic effect. Although the prevailing mood here is meditative and introspective, the funky groove and harder-edged riffing on "No More Hurt" suggest that Reilly is steeling himself and getting on with life.

On his 1989 self-titled album, Reilly first used samples to brilliant effect, weaving vocal fragments from artists like Otis Redding and Tracy Chapman into his beautiful melodic textures. Here, he takes a similar approach with some rather inspired and intriguing snippets, and the results are equally sublime. "Spanish Lament," for example, builds an evocative, shimmering arrangement around "Llorando," the a cappella Spanish-language version of Roy Orbison's "Crying" that featured in David Lynch's immensely frustrating Mulholland Drive.

Just as memorable are those tracks on which Reilly works his samples into more expansive compositions that take the onus off the guitar a little. The mesmerizing "Woman" marries a spacey dancehall reggae groove with a bluesy vocal from a 1920s field recording to produce something suggesting an otherworldly, dub deconstruction of Althea and Donna's "Uptown Top Ranking." On the string-washed "Vigil," a children's choir drifts in and out, looping its way around jerky hip-hop beats and Reilly's mournful vocals.

To say that a wake is the only type of party for which Someone Else's Party is appropriate would be a damning assessment of most records. Not so in this case. Vini Reilly's latest album is a tender, elegiac masterpiece.

By Wilson Neate

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