China Crisis

Diary of a Hollow Horse

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Reunited with producer Walter Becker, China Crisis made perhaps their most Steely Dan-like album with Diary of a Hollow Horse. Pristinely recorded and brimming with jazzy sophistication, it includes some of the U.K. quintet's best-ever material, including "Sweet Charity in Adoration," a satisfying, complex pop song of the first order that features a lovely flute cameo from sessionman Jim Horn. Yet beyond the FM perfection lurk a few surprises. The group also teamed with producer Mike Thorne (Soft Cell) for a trio of cuts that are among the most simple and direct pop songs in the their catalog. In particular, "St. Saviour Square" and "All My Prayers" have straightforward rhythms and melodies that connect instantly, drawing passionate performances from singer Gary Daly and offering a nice contrast to the more subtle surroundings. Harder to suss is the closer, the Becker-produced "Age Old Need," which sounds like it was lifted from the soundtrack to a medieval morality play. But the album did mark the close of a three-album period (begun with 1985's Flaunt the Imperfection and continued on What Price Paradise the following year) that saw China Crisis at their artistic peak, a summit reached by few of the group's late-'80s peers.

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