In the realm of art rock, few voices are as delicate, emotive, and classy as that of English singer/songwriter Tim Bowness. Perhaps best known as one-half of both No-Man (alongside Steven Wilson) and Henry Fool (alongside Stephen Bennett), Bowness has also appeared as a guest on works by Richard Barbieri (Porcupine Tree), OSI, and Nosound. Naturally, he’s also an accomplish solo artist whose two previous efforts, My Hotel Year (2004) and Abandoned Dancehall Dreams (2014), further demonstrated how capable he is at spearheading projects. Fortunately, his third effort, Stupid Things That Mean the World, earns its place alongside them, as it continues Bowness’ expertise at crafting and performing intriguing, vibrant, and heartfelt pieces with earnest grace and captivating arrangements.
Expectedly, Stupid Things that Mean the World continues the boisterous and eclectic approach that made its predecessor (which definitely showcased a Kate Bush influence) so fascinating. In fact, Bowness calls it “something of a bolder and more dynamic extension of Abandoned Dancehall Dreams. It’s a logical step forward with some surprises, I hope.” Produced by genre icon Bruce Soord (the Pineapple Thief), the record also features Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree), Peter Hammill (Van Der Graaf Generator), Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music), Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson), and Anna Phoebe (Trans-Siberian Orchestra), among others. In addition, composer Andrew Keeling once again provides string arrangements. In this way, it truly feels like a companion piece to its precursor, and it may even be slightly superior.
The sequence starts with “The Great Electric Teenage Dream”, a sonic gem whose opening piano notes and tense percussion complement Bowness’s slightly antagonistic sentiments perfectly. Behind his fragile yet hostile tone and poetic verses (including “Ghosts of passion stalk your bed / The boasts of youth still crowd your head”), distorted guitar, subtle bass, hand claps, and various other effects build to aggressive, hypnotic majesty. It’s a fine example of what makes Bowness’s work so unique and exciting, not to mention a stellar way to start things off.
In contrast, “Sing to Me”, with its forlorn lyrics, light vocals, and simple piano chords, feels like a lost piece by Neverending White Lights. Halfway through, a cascade of strings, guitar, and rhythms are piled on, culminating in a powerful and beautiful crescendo as the track fades away. It’s stunning, as is the contrast between the funky electronic elements and regal orchestration (including acoustic guitar arpeggios) in the title track. It truly feels like two different aesthetics that shouldn’t go together, but they do wonderfully, exemplifying how incredibly eclectic Stupid Things that Mean the World is at times.
The sparse, lo-fi assembly of “Press Reset” helps set it apart, as does its partially industrial timbres and staggering dynamic shifts. Likewise, the ethereal tranquility of “Everything You’re Not” makes it both calming and haunting, with backing harmonies and subtle reverse strings adding to the charming otherworldly essence. From there, the interlude “Everything But You” incorporates more ghostly dissonance (such as flutes and percussive echoes) to create one of the more adventurous and progressive moments on the disc. Next, the equally brief “Soft William” is another quiet, profound observation, with a piercing piano motif aiding Bowness’ affective tone.
“At the End of the Holiday” closes things with more classical elegance, as strings dance around each other in a gorgeous amalgam. Soon acoustic guitar chords interrupt and tribal percussion take over as more poised vocal counterpoints dominate. Once again, Bowness and company have produced a warm yet chilling aural environment, one that ultimately includes a bit of keyboards and dense atmosphere. Like much of the record, it’s serene but arresting and utterly unforgettable.
Stupid Things That Mean the World is another masterpiece in the discography of a true visionary. If that sounds hyperbolic, it’s only because so few of Bowness’ peers show the same level of artistic integrity and fearlessness, not to mention boundless creativity and precise expressionism. The impeccably bittersweet singing and lyricism keeps things grounded while each arrangement offers a sufficiently invigorating and idiosyncratic experience; together, these components meld into nearly a dozen gems as only he could create. If you’re already a fan of his work, you’ll adore this one too, and if not, it’s a fine way to start.