Louis Philippe

Ivory Tower

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In the two years since his debut album, Appointment with Venus, Louis Philippe had embarked on a particularly steep learning curve as the él label's all-purpose arranger, composer, and accompanist. The dividend was clear, for Ivory Tower represents a tremendous leap forward in terms of both composition and orchestration from its relatively timid predecessor. For the first time Philippe was able to flex the broad stylistic reach that would characterize his output for years to come. Not that you would have deduced this from the sleeve, which proclaimed "The Romantic Voice of Louis Philippe" and thus probably alienated many potential buyers who took him for an MOR crooner. Inside, of course, there's no lack of the fantasy pop that characterized both his early singles and él's output in general on songs like "Smash Hit Wonder," "Mindreader," and "Chocolate Soldiers," while "Guess I'm Dumb" is a remarkably assured re-creation of a long-lost Brian Wilson gem, written for Glen Campbell. Other songs push the pop envelope in all kinds of unexpected directions. Echoes of chanson, '30s jazz, classical song, choral music, and bossa nova keep the listener constantly on his toes, notwithstanding the slender resources at Philippe's disposal. The instrumental title track, meanwhile, sounds like an undiscovered toy-town symphony from the Beach Boys' SMiLE. On the tantalizingly brief "House of a Thousand Windows" (only included on the CD reissue) there are even hints of the experimentation with layered voices that would recur on Rainfall and Jean Renoir. Overall, such ravishing attention to detail flew directly in the face of the then prevailing fashion for shoegazing, with its featureless smears of flanged guitar noise. As a consequence, though "Guess I'm Dumb" was made Single of the Week by both NME and Melody Maker, Ivory Tower established what was to become a depressingly familiar pattern by slipping all too quickly from view.

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