Anthony Phillips has had a long and varied career. From his stint as the original guitarist for Genesis, to his instrumental-heavy Private Parts and Pieces series, to his song-centred masterworks, and even his library pieces of music composed for film and TV, the man has covered more bases than most, while maintaining a consistently high quality of output. Back in 1990, riding the crest of the new age wave, Phillips released Slow Dance, a continuous piece of music over two vinyl sides that was one of his more interesting compositions. Blending new age whimsy, neo-classical depth, prog adventurism and the latest in musical technology, Slow Dance was an incredibly absorbing, satisfying and easily digested fifty minutes of music. For those who have never heard the album previously, this is your chance to catch up. For those who are already familiar with this piece, a bonus disc of related music enhances the listening experience.
Disc One of this two disc set offers the 2017 remaster of the original album in all its pristine glory. Slow Dance Part One begins the proceedings in a quietly neo-classical mood. String synths create dreamy clouds of sound that complement the faux harpsichord and flute passages beautifully. Switching between major and minor chords, the music builds and releases tension, setting the stage for the variety of styles that eventually populate this composition over its length. At the twelve minute mark, the classicism gives way to a percussion-heavy section which brings the composition into the modern age. Phillips’ guitar skills make a brief appearance before yielding once more to the orchestral elements of the piece. As the guitar and synths join forces in a delicate intertwining of ideas, the composition picks up interest. Not until the final few minutes does the music feature the guitar again, albeit mainly classical guitar. This final section is slightly more upbeat and relies on a repetitive melody to corkscrew its way into your consciousness before disappearing.
Slow Dance Part Two opens quietly with a hypnotic figure reminiscent of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells in feel, if not in sound. A slow build of instruments leads you to believe something big is coming. Instead, Phillips pulls back again. More than four minutes in, a drum machine provides a pulse upon which a more pop-oriented melody line emerges. Live strings and woodwinds vanquish the pop excursion temporarily, only to itself be taken over by a decidedly new-agey sequencer section which eventually invites the strings to join in, making for a sublime section. Another quiet piece then gives way to what is the most exuberant fragment of the composition. Synths, horns and strings converge in an exhilarating musical lift that provides some of the album’s finest moments. A reprise of some of the more classically-oriented portions of Part One follow and then give way to another hypnotic synth tune which quietly fades to close out the album.
Disc Two is a delight for completists, but by no means essential. Opening with Themes from Slow Dance, this is an isolation of the string parts recorded for two sections of the album. Orchestra leader Gavyn Wright pulls out all the stops and brings out Ant Phillips’ most cherished classical aspirations. Similarly, Lenta Chorum isolates the strings from the penultimate section of Part Two. No Way Out goes in the other direction and highlights the more contemporary side of the composition. The acoustic guitar, electronic percussion and strings vie for prominence in this portion of the track, cascading in waves of rhythmic abandon. It is one of the few pieces of Slow Dance that can rightfully and proudly stand on its own. Contrast that with the alternate mix recorded with Ian Thomas’ live drums. The dynamic is totally different, but Phillips decided the piece worked better with the drumbox. A Slower Dance is an independently composed piece which incorporates the main themes from the album while adding a contemporaneous piano piece. The idea was for this track to be released as a single to promote the album, which did not happen. Released here for the first time, it is a beautiful addition to the Phillips canon.
Two additional instrumentals recorded at the same time as Slow Dance finally get to see the light of day. Touch Me Deeply was written a few years previously and carries the DNA for what was to become Slow Dance. It is a pleasant, keyboard-driven tune, but the decision to not include it on the album makes sense. It lacks the dynamism of the rest of the album, sounding more like a template for ideas which would be more fully developed later on. More successful is Clarinet Sleigh Ride, a sprightly song which conjures up images of winter fun. Too bad this was never released as a Christmas single, because I believe it might have had some success.
Anthony Phillips’ departure from Genesis leaves so many questions about where the band might have gone under his influence. Personally, I think it was a mutually beneficial decision for both parties. Their paths, while both eclectic and inspiring on their own, would have been diluted had they been one and the same. Phillips’ muse has led him to compositions unimaginable in a Genesis repertoire. Slow Dance is one of his finer longer form pieces. While nothing about the second disc is earth shatteringly revelatory, it is still a treat to hear the fifty minute composition in bite-sized chunks and from a different angle. Whether listening intently or enjoyed as the soundtrack to your day, Slow Dance will make you smile and warm your heart.
Disc One – Slow Dance
01. Slow Dance (Part One) (24:00)
02. Slow Dance (Part Two) (26:30)
Time – 50:30
Disc Two – Slow Dance Vignettes
01. Themes from Slow Dance (3:32)
02. No Way Out (Alternate Mix) (4:25)
03. A Slower Dance (5:39)
04. Guitar Adagio from Slow Dance (1:35)
05. Touch Me Deeply (demo) (4:01)
06. Clarinet Sleigh Ride (3:57)
07. Slow Dance Single Demo (Alternate Mix) (2:41)
08. No Way Out (Original Mix With Drums) (4:24)
09. Lenta Chorum (1:15)
Time – 31:29
Total Time – 81:29
Anthony Phillips – Emax 1, Jupiter 8, Casio CZ 5000, Roland 808, Tom Drum Machine, Alvares 12 String, Fender Stratocaster, Yari Classical Guitar, Ovation Six String, Gretsch Fretless Bass, Yamaha QX5 Sequencer
Martin Robertson – Clarinet
Ian Hardwick – Oboe
Michael Cox – Flute, Piccolo
Torbjorn Hultmark – Trumpet
Ian Thomas – Drums
Frank Ricotti – Percussion