Deke Leonard : Before Your Very Eyes

Album Cover

There is a fairly long and tortuous story behind this, Deke Leonard's third solo album. I don't want to go into too much detail, but in essence, it was recorded in fits and starts over two or three years in various places, release was delayed, and when it did finally hit the streets, it was woefully underpromoted due to record label politics. All this is fascinating, but not as fascinating as the music.

While Deke's first two solo albums, reviewed elsewhere, were fairly straightforward albums with a consistent overall sound, this is very different. Each song has been thought about separately, and is given the appropriate production treatment, whereas on Iceberg and Kamikaze, though great albums, you can listen to any track and instantly identify it as having that Deke Leonard solo album sound. While there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that, if you aren't a big Deke Leonard fan to start with, you're unlikely to be impressed from one track to the next. On this album though, a real producer, Martin Rushent, got involved. (Rushent later went on to produce the Human League, so he must have had an ear for what the public wanted). There's hardly any trace of Deke's distinctive incisive guitar at all on this album - instead Rushent makes sure each track gets what it deserves, not what Deke probably intended it to sound like at the demo stage. The result is a much more mature album than Iceberg or Kamikaze.

Enough... let's get to the songs...

Someone is Calling was originally a Man song from years back. Instantly you can tell there's something different about this album, with driving piano and horns (horns!) backing the one familiar ingredient, Leonard's great rock'n'roll voice. It never became a cornerstone of the Man set, probably as it is an OK, but not stupendous song. A good solid start, though.

Now Fools Like Me is different. A tongue in cheek (I hope) song about a Spitfire pilot, it has a relentless heavy metal riff, and again, Deke's don't-give-a-shit vocal really makes it memorable. As you'd expect, there are no horns on this track... the guitar solo is the nearest the album gets to the more traditional Iceberg sound.

Those horns are back on Marlene, a more easy paced song, which though not one of the albums high points, does ram home the fact that given the opportunity, Deke Leonard can be convincing while doing more than simple rock'n'roll.

There is a venture almost into funk, for goodness sake, on Oh, which perfectly suits John McKenzie's bass playing style, as the pace seems to ebb and flow while maintaining the right direction all the time.

Will Youatt allegedly had a lot of input into When Am I Coming Back; it is a very distinctive song, with simple piano, and deceptively simpler guitar, yet the whole is a very effective song, another of Deke's hymns to missed opportunities. Certainly one of the album's highlights.

It's back to a more uncluttered pop song with Get Off The Line, and it's only with intervening time that it's dawned on me what a good commercial single this could have been. Simple, a good beat, girly backing singers, more horns, a great hook... a tragic missed opportunity. Hiding In The Darkness has an altogether darker mood, with understated electric piano and clavinet setting the backdrop for some neat, subtle guitar, and Deke's lazy vocals, before the horns explode into the chorus. For some reason it always reminds me of Steely Dan; Nothing wrong with that.

The tension eases rather, with Big Hunk of Love, which though credited as a Leonard composition, I suspect is an old Elvis song. Not that it really matters, but it does give Deke the opportunity to ham it up like a Las Vegas Presley impersonator. Country music is the next source of influence, and I Feel Like a Pill is also blessed with some of Deke's typically witty lyrics. Another song that could have stormed the singles charts, given chance.

The World Exploded in my Face, a great title and a good song, to me has always slightly felt like filler material; this is because I've been used to listening to the vinyl, and the quality of the songs on side two has always overwhelmed me. Great intricate brass and guitar, with sympathetic backing vocals, it's nothing less than another fine song. What Am I Gonna do When the Money Runs Out? is even better, more top class lyrics, and a song I was amazed to see the Man band perform live a few years back. How he remembered all the words, I do not know...

Bad Luck is the only track to feature Terry Williams on drums, and his performace is simply perfect, as always. The song itself is a wonder. How a man from a hippy / psychadelic / rock'n'roll background can produce a song as subtle, literate and funny as this is downright amazing. What links could this song have to the Man band? Absolutley none. And it's brilliant. It just leaves me shaking my head in disbelieving amazement.

Album Cover - rearThe two bonus tracks, Map of India and Hey There! (Lady in the Black Tuxedo) were not on the original vinyl, and I have reviewed them in their own right elsewhere. Their appearance on CD may be proof there is a God in heaven, since I reckon the former is perhaps Deke's best ever song.

If you can't tell, I think this album is a work of genius. I suspect some who hugely admired Iceberg and Kamikaze were disappointed by an apparent change of direction, but I saw it as a growing maturity of song writing, and a willingness to modify his approach when the song deemed it. I'd love to know just how much of an influence Martin Rushent had in the process; equally, just what impact would this album have had on the world with a prompter release and proper promotion?

We can only sit and wonder.

Originally issued in March 1981

Available on BGO Records, BGO CD 14

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