Richard Barbieri

Flame

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One of the least-known releases in both the Japan and No-Man family trees -- it fell out of print shortly after release -- Flame is unsurprisingly a lush, romantic album that lets both Barbieri and Bowness show off their considerable skills. Hearing Bowness away from his usual collaborative foil, Steven Wilson, makes for a nice contrast; Barbieri sounds less interested in exploring modern pop styles as he is in creating his own evocative style, a bit of stripped-down Sinatra gone electronic in ways, nightclub cabaret for the end of the century. There's also something of both Scott Walker and quieter Peter Gabriel in their '80s incarnations in the music, low-key avant-rock with a moody undertow and unexpected arrangements, with Steve Jansen's drumming especially worthy of note. "Brightest Blue" is a particular winner in this vein, Barbieri's piano taking the lead there, while Bowness matches this perfectly, his just wonderful voice, softly sighing and gently passionate, giving one of his best romantic lyrics the delivery it deserves. "Time Flown" is another fine highlight, with Bowness taking a commanding tone -- only just, but enough to make an impact -- on the chorus, suiting the darker, more intense music there very well. With the help of both performers' regular circle of friends and fellow musicians -- Mick Karn and Michael Bearpark, besides Jansen and Wilson himself, among others -- the partnership creates some wonderful songs to luxuriate in. Indeed, no track is solely recorded by the two on their own, though a couple come close, including the keyboards/drums/vocals approach on "Trash Talk" (with an especially captivating choir vocal sample woven in) and the instrumental "Torch Dance."

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