The Soldier on the Wall

Alex Harvey

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The Soldier on the Wall Review

by Dave Thompson

Completed just a month before Alex Harvey's death in February 1982, Soldier on the Wall is generally regarded as little more than a career afterthought, the last sad recordings of a man whose golden years were now seven or eight years behind him. Part of that, of course, was due to the circumstances of its posthumous release, a barely publicized appearance on a tiny northern England indie label that went out of business within the year; but it also reflects upon the distinctly underwhelming nature of Harvey's own last two albums, the SAHB farewell Rock Drill, and the solo The Mafia Stole My Guitar.

Yet Soldier on the Wall is actually one of Harvey's most fulfilling albums ever. From the synth-packed romp of the opening "Mitzi," through to the closing reprise of the spellbinding title track, the somewhat low-budget feel of the record perfectly matches the deliciously downtrodden glamour of both its maker and its contents. The western lament of "Billy Bolero" and a rip-roaring take on Buddy Ebsen's "Snowshoes Thompson" are absolute stand-outs, while the mix of new material, oddball covers, and one Harvey oldie (the late-'60s "Roman Wall Blues" epic) have a dynamic sheen that catapults matters straight back to the glory days of the similarly-constituted Penthouse Tapes, the last truly great Harvey album, in 1975.

No bonus tracks round out the CD reissue, but the accompanying booklet includes a lengthy reflection on the album's making, disappearance, and, now, its return to the shelves. And, for that, we should all be truly thankful.

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