The Divide is the excellent new album from Tony Patterson and Doug Melbourne, exuding quality and insight in every engaging song. Probably more well known to many as bandmates in the notable Genesis tribute band, ReGenesis, Patterson and Melbourne have previously released a covers project of Peter Gabriel songs in Excellent Words, but decided that they would get together to release an album of their own original material, and the results are remarkable.
This is an album which covers a lot of territory, ranging from the satirical and politically infused such as the insidious nature of Fake News and vacuous right-wing populist politicians in Making it Great Again, or observations on the obsessive trivial influence of social media in the pulsating, bubbling One More Thing. However, balanced with the more acerbic perspectives, Patterson and Melbourne offer more optimism with Next Generation or different takes on love and relationships with the rather jazzy When the Evening Comes or the warmth of long-lasting love in More Beautiful. This diverse range of subjects is presented with such clarity, musical imagination and lyricism that one cannot help but be drawn into The Divide.
Antarctica commences the album in a suitably cool atmosphere through a percussive, insistent rhythm underpinning Patterson’s gloriously rich ‘whispering’ vocals with the sparse, twinkling keys certainly evoking images of a glistening, icy landscape. Patterson’s lush voice is uncannily akin to Peter Gabriel and I can think of no better compliment than to say that I believe Mr Gabriel would be proud of any of these songs. Antarctica feels like a mantra or a lament for the shrinking ice of Antarctica affected by climate change, with Clara’s ethereal backing vocalisations underlining the tragedy of this event. There is a powerful hypnotic coda as Melbourne plays a sinuous, subtle synth solo over the rhythmic backing – it’s an outstanding but chilling opening.
The opening triptych of impactful songs is completed by Fake News and Making it Great Again, which have obvious connotations in a time when mendacious, manipulative demagogues can play on fears and successfully appeal to the lowest common denominators to achieve power and influence (insert likely suspects here!). Fake News rolls along on a wave of electro beat synths with pointed and captivating lyrics:
“This one is going out to everyone, It never really happened but it’s cleverly spun
You will believe just what you want to believe, They’ll make you into what they want you to be.”
Making It Great Again is similarly biting in its observations on populist politicians over excellently produced rhythmic and melodic music:
“So Join with me – I’ll take them down,
Don’t Care too much, Just lock them up, and build a wall right there
Taking my country back, making it great again.”
The context is depressingly familiar, but what is crucial in these songs is that Patterson and Melbourne frame these commentaries within such engaging musical settings – they are real ‘earworms’ that work their way into your brain and rattle around there for days. Insightful messages need to be conveyed in ways which engage the brain and capture the heart through the ears.
Patterson and Melbourne explore other ideas and perspectives in this album and use the bright Next Generation, with its acoustic guitar opening chiming optimistically as a welcome diversion from more negative issues. Melbourne has shared in a recent interview with TPA that he is actually an optimist and admires the ‘Next Generation’ for ‘their sense of internationalism, their lack of prejudice, their general acceptance of the notion of equality.’This song shines with positivity and like many on the album it has a particularly effective coda embroidered with an attractive and brightly-hued synth line. Alongside such optimism, Patterson and Melbourne are also capable of conveying love in such a touching and truthful manner in More Beautiful, which unusually is about the love of long-lasting relationships. Over a delicate piano and string programmed backing with occasional lovely dashes of acoustic guitar, Tony Patterson sings warmly and with obvious genuine emotion:
“You and I move forward – forward together, Ready for the future, a future unknown
A small bird sings at the first ray of sunlight, The Sky fills with music,
But you’re more Beautiful than that.”
It’s a gorgeous song destined to appear in ‘Mixtape’ compilations by many for their partners, and one can see that Messrs Patterson and Melbourne are both men blessed with long-lasting, loving relationships because such a song can only really come from a place of true lived experience and real love. The coda piano/keyboard instrumental Autumn’s Left Quieter is similarly beautiful and one can only imagine what emotions inspired the writing and playing of this delicate, fragile piece which leaves the listener floating away serenely.
There are simply no weak songs on this remarkably consistent and high-quality album, but the real standout track for this reviewer is the magnetic and magnificent Man on T.V., which starts with a flowing piano intro before a popping synth pulse commences, over which melodic keys underpin Patterson’s soft vocals. There is some subtle humour in this entrancing song, with some alien noises and a reference to the Close Encounters of the Third Kind film. In an interesting insight into their songwriting process, Doug Melbourne has shared that the song started out as a simple synthesiser pulse sequence on which he built chords. He goes on to explain:
‘Lyrically, it’s inspired by two things – an improvised lyric by Tony (“Here I am, I’m the Man on TV”) and watching a cable show with my Dad – one of those shows exploring conspiracy theories such as aliens are among us, Titanic was faked, the Moon landings were faked, etc…’
This is a song which builds and builds in a blissful end section as Melbourne plays a rolling piano line, akin to the classic hit The Way It Is (that’s a good thing!) over drums, and an increasing Gospel feel backing vocal takes us gloriously to the end – it’s simply one of the best songs I’ve heard this year.
The Divide could refer to so much – the North / South divide between the locations of Patterson and Melbourne, or the political divisions in contemporary society, or between Nature and Technology, or between generations – one can read so much and enjoy in an album full of ideas and rich musical themes. The Divide is excellently written and a lovingly crafted album of classy melodic and accessible rock songs. Personally, I simply was not expecting this to be quite such a captivating release. This album has been on constant rotation and is definitely one of my favourite albums of 2019 so far.
[You can read Leo’s interview with Doug and Tony HERE.]
01. Antarctica (6:42)
02. Fake News (4:22)
03. Making it Great Again (6:12)
04. Next Generation (4:52)
05. Leave This Town (4:37)
06. Man on TV (6:28)
07. When The Evening Comes (5:00)
08. More Beautiful (4:03)
09. One More Thing (3:46)
10. Autumn’s Left Quieter (4:17)
Total Time – 50:19
Tony Patterson – Lead & Backing Vocals, Additional Keyboards, Programming, Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Flute
Doug Melbourne – Piano, Keyboards, Programming and Backing Vocals (3 & 5)
Jamie Fisher – Drums (4)
Fred Lington – Sax & Horn (7)
Clara – Vocal (1)
Siobhan – Vocal (3 & 7)