Wild Swans

Bringing Home the Ashes

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Songs about war and religious faith were not exclusive to U2 in the '80s. Liverpool, England's the Wild Swans ventured into U2 territory on their 1988 debut album, Bringing Home the Ashes, while sustaining their distinctive sound. The haunting voice of Paul Simpson injects every track with emotional weight; whether he is trying to convey joy or sorrow, his icy baritone chills to the bone. His vocals combine Scott Walker's lonely croon with the brooding angst of Ian McNabb from fellow Liverpudlians the Icicle Works. Simpson's dramatic voice vividly illustrates the stories in his songs. Bringing Home the Ashes is about somebody coming of age, growing up in an age of war and trying to find comfort from God and love. The Wild Swans were never promoted as a Christian group, but Simpson's lyrics profess a profound devotion to his religious beliefs. In "Young Manhood," Simpson sings, "Lord, I'm in your hands on Judgment Day." Nevertheless, Simpson doesn't bombard the listener with biblical doctrine; like Bono of U2, Simpson uses his spirituality to express hope or despair. The ringing guitars of Jeremy Kelly is hypnotic, especially the chiming riffs in "Archangels" and "Whirlpool Heart." As enthralling as U2 were in the '80s, they never sounded as gorgeous as the Wild Swans do on Bringing Home the Ashes. Simpson and Kelly paint indelible images; visions of a majestic cherub burst from Simpson's lyrics in "Archangels" while Kelly's shimmering guitars describe the sound of its flapping wings. Simpson's sparkling voice and Kelly's ethereal guitars provide the album with an undeniably romantic feel. Every track is suffused with radiant pop hooks. The songs are uplifting; even the disconsolate "The Worst Year of My Life" is more cathartic than depressing. In the lovely "Bitterness," Simpson sings, "Forget about the bitterness of life," a message that resonates throughout the album. Bringing Home the Ashes was a buried treasure when it was released in 1988; however, it developed a cult following in the Philippines and Japan. In 1999, the album was reissued on CD by Warner Music Japan, and it hadn't dated at all. Excellent songcraft doesn't age.

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