For some men, and women, of a certain age, Judie Tzuke’s appearance on Top of the Pops to sing hit song Stay With Me till Dawn was a life changing experience. I was a teenager at that time, and the initial reason for the attraction was obvious. She was a vision of cascading blond hair with the voice of an angel. That mostly explains why someone like me, listening almost exclusively to Prog up until then but also diving into the burgeoning post-punk and new wave scene, literally rushed out the next day to buy Welcome to the Cruise. I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest. More of the same, maybe? Hopefully a poster for the wall?
You cannot imagine, or re-create the absolute joy of those first few bars of the title track, track 1 side 1, as I realised that Judie Tzuke was, in fact, also rock goddess, prog hero AND voice of an angel, all rolled into one. The intro to this track and the opening verse are sublime:
“Don’t try to take my time, DON’T QUESTION WHAT IS ON MY MIND”, later reprised as, “Don’t try to dim my eyes, DON’T EVER TRY TO LIVE MY LIFE”.
The track as a whole remains to this day one of the all-time great progressive songs. The lyric is heartfelt and challenging, suggesting to me a woman laying down some ground rules for a prospective life partner, and the subject matter is in stark contrast to the aforementioned hit. Not only that, in addition we get string arrangements, a fusion-y instrumental break full of percussion and bass notes and a rocking guitar solo before Judie’s crisp and clear voice echoes out a final aching plea;
No… more… goodbyes.”
It’s one of the great albums, and whilst I could go on – and on – about it, the takeaway is simply that Judie Tzuke started to build a loyal and genre-bending fanbase right from the very start, both because of, but also in spite of the sugary sweetness that was her first, and only, chart hit.
However, this was all of 43 years ago and Judie Tzuke is still creating wonderful music, this latest release, her twenty-third studio album, being the upcoming Jude the Unsinkable. Over the decades, her songwriting has developed, always with a nod to the current fashions, but also always taking influences from across the spectrum, and always delivered with the unwavering grace and panache of her voice.
Her last solo album was released in 2017, but she has been active touring since lockdown, including a collaboration with Beverley Craven and Julie Fordham for the spectacular Woman to Woman project. Her empire is a family affair with original band member and husband Paul Muggleton contributing musically and producing, and their daughters Tallula and Bailey providing backing vocals. This album has a host of musicians who have worked with Judie over the years, including Bob Noble and David P Goodes and recent song-writing partners Chaz Thorogood and Ben Mark.
The last decade or so has seen Judie maintain her impressive work ethic and creativity despite suffering serious health issues, and of course the impacts of lockdown and the associated complications for the music business. As she puts it herself,
The album’s first track, to which Judie refers, is a companion piece to the first track on the previous album, another of this duo’s compositions (Women Overboard from Peace Has Broken Out). In Women Overboard we find our heroine on the edge of despair, represented by a melancholic soundscape washing underneath the vocal, which showcases all of the emotional power of Judie’s voice;
She’s not waving, she’s going down
But she’s still breathing and holding on
Unsinkable is more optimistic, defiance in the face of adversity. Although the cadence of the song is similar, there is a lighter touch to it and it is lifted further by Ben Mark’s intense electric guitar solo.
Nowhere but it seems that I’m not done yet
Sunlight fix me, make me invincible
I name this ship, Jude the Unsinkable.”
It sets the scene for a raw examination of the challenges and coping strategies of lockdown in particular, and life in general.
I’m not particularly well qualified to talk about the album’s production, but it sounds superb with a level of warmth and depth that seems far superior to the last album. Judie’s voice is always the star of the show but it somehow feels more integrated with the band, connected by the clever use of samples and an interesting range of instrumentation, including an extended brass section on White Picket Fence, possibly being featured like this for the first time?
I think this may also be the first time that there have been overtly political lyrics in Judie’s songs, that feature particularly on Idiot Kings and Sanctuary. The overwhelming message in the first half of the album is of battening down the hatches and braving it out as the challenges of recent events threaten the human spirit. The first five tracks all examine this theme, in a range of styles. Sanctuary will no doubt be a staple of future live performances, its anthemic qualities accentuated by the Tzukette’s choir and David P Goodes sympathetic, melodic guitar work. Later on in the running order there are songs with a lighter touch that highlight the positive aspects of life that can help to see people through tough times, expressed in Sunflowers, Old Movies and the lounge cabaret-style Keeper of the Sun, with the reappearance of French language phrasing, a regular Tzuke-ish trope, to emphasise the context.
The whole album is exceptionally well thought out and it feels like a lot of care has gone into creating a complete listening experience, a concept album of sorts, with highlights sprinkled liberally throughout. Whilst it’s full of class the impact on the listener, certainly in my case, is biased towards the lyrical element of the songs. Electronic soundscapes are the favoured base layer and most of the songs are concise with little space for any expansive instrumental breaks, but in the context of this album it works brilliantly.
Diehard fans will not be disappointed; this is a sumptuous collection of new songs with all the hallmarks of the Big Moon Records collective. For the curious, this is very much a lockdown album based around lyrics in which Judie lays bare her frustrations and personal struggles, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel, and there will be smiles all round as the warmth of Judie’s voice wraps its arms around you, with love.
01. Unsinkable (3:14)
02. Idiot Kings (3:14)
03. Sanctuary (4:02)
04. Deadlock (4:02)
05. White Picket Fence (5:21)
06. Evergreen (5:13)
07. Rituals (3:39)
08. Sunflowers (4:12)
09. I See You (3:55)
10. Old Movies (3:39)
11. You’ve Got to Be in It (3:46)
12. Keeper of the Sun (4:13)
Total Time – 48:30
Judie Tzuke – Vocals
Paul Muggleton – Backing Vocals, Programming, Ciuca
Bailey Tzuke & Tallula Tzuke – Backing Vocals
David P Goodes – Acoustic & Electric Guitar, Piano, Bass, Synth, Drum Programming, Violin Arrangements
Jamie Sefton – Bass, Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Oboe, Flute (tracks 1,2,4,5,6,8 & 9)
Matthew Racher – Drums, Percussion (tracks 1,2,5.6 & 8)
Natasha Petrovic – Violin, Viola (tracks 5,8 & 12)
Laura Welsh – Backing Vocals (tracks 4,7 & 9)
Ben Mark – Guitar, Piano, Synth, Glockenspiel (tracks 1 & 2)
Tim Deal – String Arrangement, Piano, Synth (tracks 5 & 6)
Jolyon Dixon – Electric Guitar (track 8)
Sarah Barton-Keeley – Piano (track 8)
Lizzy May – Cello (track 8)
Chaz Thorogood – Acoustic Guitar (track 6)
Bob Noble – Piano, Organ (track 5)
Beverley Craven – Contrabass, Cello, String Arrangement (track 12)
Rani Tzuke-Racher – Backing Vocals (track 10)
Record Label: Big Moon Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: October 2023