REVIEW: THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (1978) & FOURTH DIMENSION (1973) / MUSIC: PETER HOWELL, PADDY KINGSLAND, AND THE BBC RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP / PUBLISHER: MUSIC ON VINYL / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Both of Music on Vinyl's recent BBC Radiophonic Workshop reissues have received excellent remastering jobs and pressings on 180-gram vinyl. They look and sound lovely, but they're remarkably different in terms of tone.
Peter Howell's Through a Glass Darkly features a nearly 20-minute suite on the A-side, which takes the listener on an auditory journey to another world. It's deals almost exclusively in electronic sounds, never once venturing into standard instrumentation. Howell's work is magical and quite fantastic, in the most literal sense of the world. The "lyrical adventure" of "Through a Glass Darkly" could be imagined as a Whovian trip through space and time, as the jacket suggests, or it could be a Narnian voyage across an ancient sea. The work floats and flits ethereally, quietly moving the listener along its path. Halfway through, the piano becomes more prominent, and attention begins to wane, but as drums come in, like an insistent heartbeat, things get really interesting. Forces marshal and rise to a march, and then the plot plays out. I'll not spoil where it goes entirely, but you'll be rapt, trust me. The tracks on the flip are all equally spacey, but more like the Meco disco remixes of the late '70s and early '80s. Fun stuff, but a complete turnaround from the first side of the LP, aside from Through a Glass Darkly's closing track, "The Astronauts," which takes the sweeping aggrandizement of the titular suite and distils it into five minutes of interstellar overdrive.
The music on Fourth Dimension, as composed by Paddy Kingsland, is less cohesive, as it consists of "signature tunes and incidental music for BBC Radio and Television programmes." It's also much earlier than the music of Through a Glass Darkly, coming out in 1973, as opposed to 1978. Five years is a lifetime in popular music, and it shows. This is far more staid, yet the beauty is enhanced by the oddity of the synthesizers. Even a full forty years afterwards, something like "Vespucci" still sounds futuristic, like the love theme for a romance in outer space. The second side works in the bleeps and bloops a bit more, especially on the glorious "Kaleidoscope," which sounds like "Greensleeves" by way of the Star Trek theme – which is to say, glorious.
Both records are full and crisp, with none of the tinniness one associates with '70s synthesizer music. The warmth of those analogue synths comes through fully.