A little after Keith Emerson’s tragic passing, I remarked that the twilight years of an artist’s life must be challenging, and that I wish there was some sort of place (like Valinor in Lord of the Rings) where we could send our musicians and poets who have contributed so much to us, so that we could honor their contribution and legacy. I can only imagine how frustrating it could be for artists who are in their later years, or past their “prime”, to acclimate to the mundane. For as long as fame has existed, there has simultaneously been the tragic figure of the washed-up artist, frustrated with themselves as their skills dull, or as their memories fade, or as their fame wanes.
If you’re saying to yourself, “Wow, that’s a really depressing way to start a review”, well, this album isn’t exactly sunshine and happiness. It is a melancholy look into the life of a fictional has-been (or perhaps a composite figure), written in Tim Bowness’s familiar dreamlike, scintillating style. Much like Kevin Gilbert’s legendary album The Shaming of the True, this former star talks about his life with a wry and at times sardonic attitude, recalling the hollowness and fragility of fame. This is the type of album, much like mid-era Porcupine Tree, that feels right to listen to while it’s raining.
The album starts out with the gorgeous “Worlds of Yesterday”, which sets the stage (both literally and figuratively) of the aging old star, with a scintillating, dreamy backdrop. “Moonshot Manchild” clues us into the band name of our aging star (Moonshot). The song builds the troubled psychological profile of the rocker who might feel stunted due to his fame, as it oscillates between the young star’s dreams of grandeur and fame, and the cold reality of now. One can almost picture the gaze of the old rocker staring off into the distance, recalling the lights and the crowds and the stage. “You’ll be the Silence”, the longest track on the album, is a wise look at an artist’s career, channeling the early days when the aging protagonist was still feeling the magic of songwriting and stardom, but as the song progresses, the listener is forced to return to the stark reality of the present. “Something died/And there was nowhere to hide”, to me, seems to be referring to that magic in each artist’s heart when they begin, before fame and frivolity pull them away.
“You Wanted To Be Seen”, starts out in the dreary style of previous tracks, and features the artist pining to have the fame of yesteryear, but midway through, there is a musical shift, as the time signature changes to 7/8 and the melody picks up. This section has a distinct late-era Genesis feel to me, and I can’t help but feel that this is a somewhat intentional slight at our favorite prog-pop scapegoats.
It is worth noting that this album features numerous guest artists of great acclaim, including Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree), Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull, solo work, Bruce Soord (Pineapple Thief), and Kit Watkins (Happy the Man), but no musician overpowers or eclipses the message of the album. Every musician contributes their high caliber of artistry to the psychedelic swirl of the album, and all are corralled by Bowness and his longtime collaborator, the ever-careful master of melancholy, Steven Wilson, who mixed and mastered the album.
In all, this album is touching and impactful, albeit dreary. Part of the reason why art exists ( particularly art that deals with fictional representations of common figures) is it allows for the viewer or listener or reader to walk a mile or two in someone else’s shoes, and understand better their feelings and motivations, thus creating a more rounded understanding of the complexities of the human experience. Having said this, Bowness’s latest album succeeds at transporting us into the mind and heart of an aged star who is reflecting back on his transient glory days, both pining for what was and accepting the crushing reality that it was all smoke and mirrors. Like a musical retelling of Ecclesiastes, we are left with a distinct impulse to reassess our own raison de vivre, and to not let others’ (the “crowd”) define that for us. Lost in the Ghost Light will be available on February 17, 2017 through InsideOut Records. Purchase Tim Bowness’s latest album here.