All tracks composed, performed and produced by Mark Shreeve
Mark Shreeve's position in the world of electronic music has always been an unusual one, combining
critical acclaim and a small but fanatical following with lousy availability and almost total obscurity.
Nocturne is Shreeve's first US CD release, on Chris Franke's Sonic Images label. It gives US listeners an
opportunity to sample the work of a man whose previous albums such as Assassin, Legion, and Crash Head
were for the longest time almost impossible to find. It's only within the last year or so, thanks to the
Centaur label in the UK, that those have now become available on CD, but they remain hard-to-find
imports in the US.
Part of Shreeve's appeal has always been his highly distinctive style- complex electronics redolent of
early 80's Tangerine Dream coupled with a melodic pop sensibility (he penned one of Samantha Fox's
mid-80s hits but we shouldn't hold that against him) and a lingering fondness for heavy metal. These
combined to great effect in Crash Head and his masterpiece Legion, strongly electronic albums with
occasional blistering ( and often hugely overblown) guitar work courtesy of various guests, and wonderful
Nocturne is, well, let's be honest, not the equal of those albums, composed as it is from material that's
previously appeared on Shreeve's library albums. Library albums? A curious UK phenomenon, whereby
radio and TV producers can buy incidental music "in Bulk" in the form of non-retail CDs of music, neatly
tucked and snipped to suit their needs. The history of the material on Nocturne isn't too obvious,
fortunately (except for their tendency to flow into each other). So although it's not Shreeve at his absolute
best, it's a good enough introduction, providing the listener with enough of a feel for his music that they'll
know whether or not it's worth their seeking out Crash Head, Legion or Assassin.
The first track, "Meateater", has lots of distinctive Shreeve touches- rich, dark synths, meaty
percussion, odd vocal effects circulating in the mix. However, it's spoiled for me somewhat by a decidedly
flatulent synth-sax noise that makes the track sound more like a Benny Hill chase scene in places or, if
you prefer, combines badly with the "Oh yeah" samples to recall Yello's "The Race" rather too strongly.
"Aftershock" is rather more pleasing to the ear, beautifully atmospheric and somewhat ambient, although
it's also very short, and leads into "Ride The Lightning". Corny title aside, this is Shreeve at his best, with
grandiose, driving synth work, catchy hooks, and so on.
For most of Shreeve's career, the only real reference point I've been able to give people is if the early
80's Tangerine Dream - Exit or Tangram -era with Johannes Schmoelling - had decided they wanted to
break into the charts as a rock band rather than going the muzak route taken by Edgar Froese in recent
years. However, after the first three, Nocturne takes a surprising turn, with lots of subdued electronic
atmospherics and effects that recall old (Oxygene, Equinoxe) era Jean Michel Jarre more than anything
Shreeve finally escapes from his Jarre-isms after the excellent "Out Of Time, Out Of Place", but I rapidly
began to wish he hadn't. "Big Trouble" is easily the worst Shreeve track I've ever heard. Why? Vocals.
Cheesy second rate "rawk" vocals, courtesy of one Lol Mason. Ugh. I'd skip over this unpleasant aberration
completely if it wasn't for Shreeve's music being typically excellent, with the percussion break almost
making up for the cliched lyrics and vocals.
It's followed by "Balles de Cosmique", typically Shreeve-y stuff that gives the impression of only acting as
a bridge between two other places. In this case it's a bridge between "Big Trouble" and "Hellchilde", that
latter being a dark, brooding piece straight out of Legion or the darker side of Crash Head.
Next up is "Dynamo Eternal", Shreeve at his energetic and exuberant best. It's not as complex or layered as
some of his more atmospheric work, but it's terribly catchy. "Ceremony" heads back into more subtle
territory, with an excellent piece of darkly atmospheric sci-fi/horror movie music. "Black" continues in
similar vein (as its title might suggest), juxtaposing heavy bass synth and synth-guitar with a much
lighter, tinklier melody. "Century Down" is very attractive in places, but also more than a little
overblown at times. The "vocals" (again courtesy of Mr Mason) again seem out of place, but at least he
doesn't have any lyrics to sing this time.
"Summer Drift 69" seems almost completely out of place - it opens with typical Shreeve distant church
bells and half-heard vocals but metamorphoses into a cheerful little tinkly-bonk affair centred around a
synthetics Hammond organ sound that's horribly catchy and decidedly silly and lightweight. Great stuff, of
course. The album finishes with the title track, another darker track that comes across as a fusion of
Jarre and TD (something I should really stop saying - it implies that Shreeve's more derivative than he
is) with an added guitar and Mr Mason making non-lyrical vocal noises again. It's not my favourite track
on the album by any means, but it's not bad either.
Overall, Nocturne is a good introduction to Shreeve's material for those who've heard of him, are curious,
but don't want to splash out on Legion (still the pick of the Shreeve albums, in my opinion). It's also got
enough of interest on it to existing fans to be worth a look to them as well. It should appeal to fans of the
more melodic, less experimental stuff that Tangerine Dream was doing in the early-mid 80s, and some of
the synth work might attract synth-pop fans too. I personally find the heavy metal guitar work a little
overdone and offputting at times, but that's just my personal taste. It's worth at least a look by any of the
- Al Crawford, Art/Empire/Industry