Music

'Flowers at the Scene' Stands Out Amongst Tim Bowness' Already Impressive Crop of Solo Albums

Photo: David Owens / InsideOut Music

Following three fine solo LPs, Tim Bowness releases his most sonically diverse album yet with the adventurous Flowers at the Scene.

Flowers at the Scene
Tim Bowness

Inside Out Music

1 March 2019

Now over 30 years into his career as a musician, Tim Bowness claims several distinct traits as a lyricist. His poetic style, initially developed as one half of the duo No-Man (with Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree fame), frequently draws on isolated, hyper-detailed images to paint a vivid picture in a brief amount of space. ("You walk upon the dirt and chocolate wrappers / You're leaving me behind you" on No-Man's "Things Change") Bowness seems to have at his disposal a bevy vocative phrases with just the right amount of interpretive vagueness – "the hollow thump of life that has no taste" is a favorite of mine. Although vivid enough on the page, Bowness' lyrics come into full life through his breathy, gentle singing voice, a calm tenor which occasionally slowly rises to the higher end of the register.

Musically, Bowness is all over the place. No-Man itself resists genre, with the duo's career spanning trip-hop to jazz to singer-songwriter, to name only a few. And now, over the course of three recent solo LPs – Abandoned Dancehall Dreams (2014), Stupid Things that Mean the World (2015), and Lost in the Ghost Light (2017) – Bowness has expanded not only his oeuvre but also his compositional range. (A one-off studio record, 2006's My Hotel Year, precedes the aforementioned three, though in my 2017 interview with him for PopMatters he talks about it as a "studio album in name only.") As if structuring albums by David Hume's skeptical principle that one cannot know that any event will follow after another, Bowness places hard rockers next to reflective ballads, dance numbers alongside hushed acoustic interludes. Over the course of a Tim Bowness record one will inevitably find themselves wondering how such eclectic songwriting manages to hang together – and, with Bowness, it usually does.

Flowers at the Scene, Bowness' fifth solo disc, exemplifies his capacious musical imagination more than any record which precedes it. The spare, somewhat impressionist album art suggests a collection of gentle tunes, and indeed there are a few here, such as the "What Lies Here" sparsely arranged curtain call "The War on Me". Then there's the devastating "Not Married Anymore", which is classic Bowness: a brilliant character study built atop hypnotic keyboards and subtle, jazzy drums. Over an unassertive, somewhat sleepy melody, Bowness paints a portrait of a person realizing their post-divorce loneliness in heartbreaking detail. Beginning with a tragicomic image of "spaghetti on the floor / Christmas wreaths still hanging from the bedroom doors", Bowness repeats the titular refrain over and over – "You're not married anymore" – emphasizing the significance of what to some just look like clutter in the home. Moments like these feel like callbacks to No-Man's late records, Returning Jesus and Schoolyard Ghosts especially, and it's perhaps not a coincidence given that Bowness produced Flowers at the Scene with Wilson, thereby making it a No-Man-produced affair. In press materials for this record Bowness does admit that this music contains "more than a hint of the spirit of No-Man".

Yet what makes Flowers at the Scene such a revelation is its embrace of pop and even some harder-edged rock. Bowness flirted with heavy sounds on his past three studio records on tracks like "The Warm-Up Man Forever" and "The Great Electric Teenage Dream", which thunderously open Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and Stupid Things that Mean the World, respectively. But neither of those so cohesively and holistically embrace pop and rock songwriting like Flowers at the Scene. "Borderline" and "Killing to Survive" could have been bonafide radio hits in the '80s, the latter a dead ringer for U2 with its Edge-esque guitar lead. "It's the World", with its plodding, distorted riff, veers lightly into metal territory, a terrain somewhat but not entirely unfamiliar to Bowness. (His lone full-metal excursion to date exists as a bonus track on OSI's underrated 2009 LP Blood.)

Lead single "I Go Deeper" gets its driving rhythm from a particularly excellent drum performance. Rock and pop have existed in Bowness' unique musical vernacular for quite some time now, but there's an energy to Flowers at the Scene which makes it feel like Bowness' true pop/rock statement to date. In contrast to the conceptual narrative of Lost in the Ghost Light, Flowers at the Scene adopts a song-centered approach which yields fine results – it's a move not unlike the one Wilson made between his two most recent solo outings, 2015's Hand. Cannot. Erase. and 2017's To the Bone.

Amidst the tranquil and turbulent shifts in Flowers at the Scene, Bowness places the best song, the title track, right in the middle. Echoes of No-Man's "Chelsea Cap" can be heard in the interplay between piano and drums, but in keeping with the guitar rock bent which informs much of the LP, the track builds to a thrilling guitar solo, lifting the jazzy aura of the music to almost arena concert heights. The chorus, equally poetic and catchy, has Bowness creating another visually rich, nostalgic image: "There were flowers at the scene / There were postcards from the team / On the bandstand by the green / There were flowers at the scene." It's a kind of evocation that we've heard in Bowness' music before. An oddly specific phrase, a setting wholly rendered from only a few small but significant details.

Bowness could be forgiven for reaching for such lyrical tricks after decades as a musician, but, amazingly, he seems to be an endless fount of poetic ruminations on life's tiny tragedies – and, if that wasn't enough, he still knows how to put them to music. By synthesizing the myriad facets of Bowness' output as a songwriter and channeling them into 11 focused and tightly composed songs, Flowers at the Scene stands out amongst his already impressive crop of solo albums.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Games

On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Music

Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.

Music

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.

Music

Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.

Music

That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.

Books

Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.

Reviews

Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.

Music

Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.

Film

'Thor: Ragnorak' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.

Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.