Cardinal fans had long given up on hearing another album from Richard Davies and Eric Matthews, whose partnership dissolved in acrimony after a single LP -- but did lead to a couple of charming solo albums from each. Then, no less than 17 years later, the duo quickly and quietly pumped out a sophomore follow-up, Hymns. If the intended result for fans is just hearing the combination of Davies' arch lyrics with Matthews' majestic arrangements and occasional breathy backing vocals, then it's mission accomplished. And there's certainly a bevy of baroque touches, including Matthews' trumpet, harpsichord, and timpani on the instrumental "Surviving Paris." Davies' beautiful "Kal" nears the quality of their peak, thanks to Matthews' heart-tugging arrangement, as does the opener, "Northern Soul." But elsewhere it's clear that this is not the equal of Cardinal's past; the duo reach a denouement of sorts on "General Hospital," turgid and murky where the self-titled Cardinal album was angelic and clear. The few Cardinal fans who might still be interested in the band should definitely have been careful what they wished for, but to be honest, just hearing Davies and Matthews together counts for something special.
by John Bush