A Found Masterpiece
First things first, The Lost Album is not Stoned (2005). Second, it’s not really a new album. In fact, it’s difficult to know how to place The Lost Album at first: an album of late ‘90s demos that were re-recorded in 2004 to follow-up the UK release of Stoned and is available in the U.S. only three years after the fact. Those who discovered Lewis Taylor through the exceptional Stoned album might be taken aback. Whereas Stoned was steeped in psychedelic soul, The Lost Album owes itself to an altogether different style: a mix of mid-‘70s Southern California rock and British symphonic-pop. Like the R&B influences on Stoned, Taylor makes this unique fusion his very own, underscoring the unpredictable mutability of a criminally underappreciated artist.
“Lost” connotes a few things here. The retro cover art, for one, gives the impression that The Lost Album is a “lost” gem from three decades ago, particularly since it’s packaged as a mini-gatefold LP with a brown inner sleeve to protect the disc (given that some of these songs recall the cream of classic ELO and Supertramp, it’s really not an unrealistic conclusion to make). Second, had Taylor and his writing partner Sabina Smyth not revisited these decade-old demos, rejected by Island Records for not being “soulful” enough, these songs would be “lost”. (When he formed his own Slow Reality imprint, Taylor no longer had to sacrifice his artistic integrity and was free to create and compose in any style he fancied.) But it’s a different kind of “lost” that differentiates this album from anything you might hear in 2007. In staying true to how Taylor and Smyth envisioned these songs, they have crafted an album of scintillating soundscapes that are so consuming of the senses, one could get “lost” listening to them.
The opening track, “Listen Here”, prepares the listener for an unforgettable journey. Taylor’s falsetto fades up from a sparkling nether land of shiny harpsichords: “Show me a fool who’ll believe it/Is it a fantasy?/Is it real?/Maybe you don’t understand it/Out of my head is the way I feel”. Knowing the back story about this album, it’s tempting to interpret the lyrics as a reaction to the music executives who wanted to box Taylor in as a blue-eyed soul messiah after scoring success with Lewis Taylor (1996). “I’m not about to throw it all away/I really think I know just what I’m doing/And all I want you to do/Listen here for a little while”, he sings. The song transitions from an ebullient plea to a vociferous command—“Listen!”—as a cacophonous chorus of guitars take hold of the song. No, Taylor will not be boxed in and you’d do well to heed his order.
Following “Listen Here”, Taylor sings “Hide Your Heart Away” in a lower than usual vocal register. The mid-tempo groove careens into rock territory when Taylor exclaims to a waffling lover, “It’s not the ideal love affair you dreamed about this time around”. The intensity heightens and the multi-layered harmonies soar right along with the guitars. This is the type of song one disturbs neighbors with at midnight. (On a personal note, “Hide Your Heart Away” is my reason to wake up in the morning.)
It’s obvious by track three that the excellence of this album is anchored by a song sequence that doesn’t overstay one mood too long. “The Leader of the Band”, for example, is a piano-based piece of pop-rock perfection that follows the fireworks of “Hide Your Heart Away” but doesn’t steal its thunder. Though Taylor may not have the strongest set of pipes, his excellent songwriting and production skills more than compensate. The album’s centerpiece ballad, “Let’s Hope Nobody Finds Us”, hooks immediately with a beautiful phrase that may look odd in print but sounds heavenly on record: “Doo-doo-doo-ahh-ahh-ahh-ahh”. Taylor is so enraptured by love that he savors each word, drawing out the vowel sounds as he sings. The way he vocalizes “I want to get down and pray (a love like ours) won’t fade away” is like early morning dew shimmering on the album cover’s palm fronds. A far different mood encompasses the trippy groove of “Yeah”. One vividly pictures dry ice floating across a stage bathed in pink and blue spotlights during the guitar solo, bringing to mind the bombastic stage shows of the late 1970s. Each of these songs bring the listener to a different point on Taylor’s compass. Consequently, The Lost Album never plateaus.
To say this album gets better with each listen is both a cliché and an understatement. After a few spins, one eventually notices that “Say I Love You” has enough hooks to fill three songs, that “See My Way” is a clever diatribe against the clueless gatekeepers of the music industry, and that “One More Mystery” is a thematic bookend to “Listen Here” (it also just might bring a tear to your eye). That Island Records rejected these songs a decade ago proves the short-sightedness of that label and the genius of David Gorman and Michael Nieves at HackTone for honoring Taylor’s talent. Ultimately, Lewis Taylor’s admirable perseverance has begotten a modern day masterpiece.