Declared as one of the most gifted guitarists of his generation by many of his peers, few would have expected Bill Ryder-Jones' debut solo album, If..., to largely eschew the instrument that he mastered so effortlessly during his 12-year stint with psychedelic Liverpool combo the Coral. But based on Italo Calvino's complex 1979 post-modernist novel If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, its ten exquisite largely orchestral numbers do just that, suggesting his 2008 departure from the band might have been one of those rare instances when the citing of "musical differences" was actually true. As abstract a concept as it is, Ryder-Jones has previously exhibited both his cinematic and classical tendencies before, whether arranging the strings for his final record with the Coral, Roots & Echoes, or scoring several short films during the past three years, ensuring that despite its left-field quality, Ryder-Jones certainly knows what he's doing. With its stately piano chords and luscious strings (courtesy of the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra), the opening title track sounds like an alternative theme to Downton Abbey, but it's something of a red herring, as elsewhere the album revels in a melancholic and slightly somber atmosphere that recalls the work of Pop Will Eat Itself's fellow indie pop star turned composer, Clint Mansell -- no more so than on the funereal "By the Church of Apollonia," which opens with some rain sound effects and ominous percussion before flashes of ghostly female backing vocals make way for a menacing string-soaked finale, and the delicate "Leaning (Star of Sweden)," a mournful number apparently inspired by an episode of Poirot, made even the more haunting by Ryder-Jones' distant Scouse tones. The out-of-place proggy guitar solo that interrupts the chiming chamber pop of "Enlace" and the more conventional acoustic folk of "Le Grand Desordre" suggest you can take the boy out of the Coral, but you can't take the Coral out of the boy. But as evident on the emotionally stirring Asian-tinged "The Flowers #3 (Lotus)," the ghostly melancholy of "Give Me a Name," and the ornate closer, "Some Absolute End (The End)," Ryder-Jones deserves to make the leap from imaginary films to the real thing.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien