Archive for James Stevenson

Is Henry Badowski’s “Life Is A Grand” THE Great Lost Album of All Time?

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on June 28, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Gather my children, and you shall hear, of possibly the greatest record from the post-punk era that you can’t find on iTunes, can’t find on Spotify, can’t find anywhere but in the vinyl stacks of… mature people who have record players.

Back when Miles Copeland was leveraging IRS Records and using his power base as manager of his brother’s band, The Police, to bring good new music to an audience — succeeding with R.E.M., less so with The Fleshtones — one of the British acts whose record — there was only one — that he released to the world was Henry Badowski.  Life Is A Grand came out in 1981, and in the States at least, was discovered by approximately three people.  Happily we were one, and it brings a certain joy to tell you that just today, for the first time since the early Reagan years, we have dusted off the record, ascertained that our phonograph works, and put it on.

It holds up!  With just James Stevenson on guitar and bass, Badowski sang, played keyboards, programmed the drum machine, and played sax.  The record is like a mix of Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy and Bowie’s Low –– though it is so endearingly sweet, you have to imagine Bowie on ecstasy, not blow.  It is almost entirely upbeat, and the rhythm section could easily have been the Moxhams from Young Marble Giant — minimalist, spare — underneath Farfisas and simple keyboards.  All we see of Badowski from the album cover is a fey, Bryan Ferry head of hair posed near a hedge on one of those great British country gardens.  And that’s all we’ve seen of him for 30 years or more; he disappeared, at least on this side of the pond.  And the record?  It disappeared too.

If today you heard on the radio “My Face,” which leads off the album, you’d think it was a contemporary band that owed a debt to Eno, which is never a bad thing.  “My Face” was a minor British radio hit, but it’s “Henry’s In Love” that has kept spinning in our head for lo these many years, a gorgeous British pop song with a melody XTC’s Andy Partridge would have made too angular, would have stripped it of its languorous charm.  “Swimming With The Fish In The Sea,” has a bass line programmed by Bach after one too many lagers and is another song that you’d swear was an Eno outtake; if I put it on and claimed it was the lost Eno single, “Seven Deadly Finns,” you’d take it at face value.  “Silver Trees” sounds like it could have been sung by Wire’s Graham Lewis on a champagne bender.  “This Was Meant To Be” is somewhere between Berlin Trilogy Bowie and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark.

We could go on and describe each song lovingly.  Let’s stop here and posit this: if you have dirt on an executive at Rhino Records, if you have compromising pictures of one of the Copelands dropping off those CIA guns to the Syrian rebels, ask them, nicely, to figure out a way to get Henry Badowski’s Life Is A Grand into a digital second life.  It will make your day, as rediscovering it today made mine.

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