By Uber Rock
Multi-instrumentalist and producer Ian James Stewart is best known as the guitarist and main songwriter with the band Strangeways. Not by me though – I’d never heard of him before I found 'Junk DNA' stuffed in my letterbox.
On the evidence of what’s here, that’s my loss. 'Junk DNA' is a wonderful collection of thoughtful, well-crafted and sometimes heartfelt tracks that sits in that genre-defying no-man’s-land with the likes of Steve Hogarth’s h-band, Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden, Kate Bush’s 'The Dreaming' album and Twelfth Night’s Geoff Mann. It’s too tough and edgy to be pop, but not always hard enough to be rock. It’s proggy in places but not really prog. There’s a cool blues influence here and there, but it’s not really blues. You get the picture.
Title track opener, ‘Junk DNA’ itself, has a great, swinging riff and grooves along in inspired fashion, as does the equally enjoyable ‘Big White Monkey’ (“pissin’ all over the grass”). The mighty ‘Phosphorus’ and ‘So Far So Good’ match the aforementioned Hogarth’s solo output for earnestness and intensity. The latter has a gorgeous melody, as does the jangly ‘One More Time’, which is itself reminiscent of a Marillion single circa 'Season’s End/Holidays in Eden'. Prog fans might also like to note the extended lead guitar work on ‘Path of Lightning’, that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Dave Gilmour album.
Elsewhere, I also enjoyed the gentle, bluesy ‘Heaven Knows’, the yearning album closer ‘If This Is Life’, the chilled-out instrumental ‘Slow Burn Dance’ and the Celtic-tinged indie folk of ‘No Water’. Backing vocalists on ‘No Water’ include Robert Wyatt who also contributes his inimitable lead vocals to the bonus track ‘When U Love Somebody’.
Wyatt (or ‘Y@’ as he signs off) also provides an insightful Foreword in the CD booklet, drawing attention to Brian Eno’s warning dictum: “Every object obscures another”. “And here’s what is so refreshing about what Ian James Stewart does,” says Wyatt. “There’s everything you need and nothing you don’t.”
“Ian’s music has a hypnotic elegance,” continues Wyatt. “A magical touch – almost translucent at times, but with a warm pulse that really drives the music along with an organically focused momentum. Rock music for grown-ups.”
Indeed, Robert, it’s wonderful stuff. And for those of us who don’t want to grow up all the time, there’s Motörhead too.