Though the recent campaign of BBC Radiophonic Workshop reissues is quite possibly the best thing to happen to music in quite some time, you can bet it’ll be a while before they get around to giving a digital lick of paint to 1978′s Through A Glass Darkly. For those who are fortunate enough never to have encountered this album, it’s basically what happened when someone at BBC Records And Tapes noticed that those Vangelis and Jean Michel-Jarre chaps were having rather a lot of success with their meaningful synth-derived post-prog concept albums, and decided that their own in-house electronic tunesmiths could do the same thing just as well – and, or so they clearly hoped, just as profitably.
Enter Peter Howell, resident occasional provider of audience-adored works of genius like the score from The Body In Question, and full-time pursuer of the strange ambition to make modern emergent digital musical technologies sound utterly indistinguishable from medieval instrumentation, who was asked to fashion some of his more recent compostional successes together into a ‘Lyrical Adventure’ to capture the imaginations of those who had been entranced by Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version Of The War Of The Worlds. Problem was – as was more than ably demonstrated by the second side, wherein several Howell efforts such as Magenta Court, Caches Of Gold, Colour Rinse, Wind In The Wires and the faberiffic The Astronauts, were presented as a sort of linked themed suite but still as standalone pieces in five minute chunks in their own right – Howell’s works were thrilling in small doses but when given any loftier sense of ambition or pretention, well, just went on and on and on and on and on. As with the entire first side of the album, Through A Glass Darkly itself, which is so bloated and pompous that nobody in their right mind has ever managed to listen to it in full…
…until now, that is! Yes, in the interests of Radiophonic academia, Out On Blue Six is going to brave the whole thing for the first time ever, with a running commentary and handy timings as we go. So strap yourselves into your nearest Roland SH-21 and away we go…
00:00 Interestingly enough, the very start of this epic sounds almost identical to the opening of the theme from legendary ancient ‘I say you chaps, let’s go to Mars, what?’ BBC radio serial Journey Into Space, which in a staggering not-quite-coincidence had also seen release on BBC Records in 1978 as part of the superlative compilation BBC Space Themes. Could this be the very beginnings of some sort of electro-symphonic tribute to ‘The BBC In Space’?
00:58 Apparently not, unless the BBC’s forays into science fiction and science fact also came to somehow incorporate slushy piano tinkling straight from the soundtrack of a soft-focus ‘tearjerker’.
01:21 And now, Tom & Jerry are chasing each other up and down Jim Steinman’s piano keyboard. This is not as interesting as it might sound.
01:30 A ‘space’ noises interlude, not exactly overflowing with musical thrills but a more than welcome diversion all the same.
02:05 The evolving piece starts to display dangerous hints of ‘melody’.
02:54 Oh come on, that was only ever going to be a momentary aberration, and bang on cue it’s now gone into a trend-surfing Close Encounters-style motif, only with trademark BBC reservedness. Hallo Alien Fellows!
03:20 Now it’s mutated into the main title theme of what could only be described as ‘Enya’s 7′.
04:59 THE END. Hurrah! And it’s shorter than it appears too, and at this length maybe arguably just about tolerable. Oh hang on…
05:04 After a few seconds of blissful silence, the listener is suddenly assaulted by a fanfare straight out of Kassia’s Wedding Music, off of the Doctor Who story The Keeper Of Traken and believed by experts to be the silliest piece of music ever written.
05:16 The first appearance of a recurring motif that appears to be some sort of primitive ancestral prototype of the BBC Video ‘Star’ Music.
05:39 And now it’s become a sort of variation as performed by the Answer Prancer out of Brass Eye. Mr Howell’s medieival pretentions never were going to be far away, were they?
06:10 …and now it’s developed into some form of grand neo-classical variation. Is this all it’s going to do from now on?
06:24 “…and that’s Thursday, on BBC1!”
06:46 But the ‘Star’ Music won’t stay gone, and now it’s being played by Richard Clayderman.
07:25 …and now it’s become a sort of ‘echo from space’. Woooooo!
07:39 A refreshing diversion into bleepy bloopy stuff with added electronic ‘bats’.
09:03 A rare hint of listenability courtesy of some typical-of-its time synth-derived ‘pioneers of space’ tomfoolery.
09:26 Bar-room piano tinkling that gives way to an actually quite tuneful easy listening melody, like shopping centre run by The Tripods. And presumably with piano provided by a Cyber-Clayderman.
11:18 Oh come on, this must be the end!
11:28 Nope, because you can still hear some juddering percussion somewhere in distance, not entirely dissimilar to the start of Vienna by Ultravox.
12:05 Are those carefully-arranged ‘random’ piano burbles, or the sound of Richard Clayderman having a space fit?
12:43 Wow, it’s an exciting dramatic synth pattern. A bit late in the day to think about bringing one of those in, though.
13:28 A mental synth leap ushers in frantic Vangelis-aping drama that ineplicably turns into the theme from Crimewatch UK.
14:24 And even that, as not-that-entertaining as it might be, was clearly too good to last, because here’s that bloody piano nonsense again.
14:57 OH PACK IT IN
15:27 Synth twitters with a hint of jazz. We’re back in Vangelis-land, with no small element of ‘borrowing’ from Jeff Wayne’s Eve Of The War.
17:00 Piano cascades wash into a distant twinkly version of the prototype BBC Video ‘Star’ Music.
18:08 A swish of cymbals, Clayderman plays a random medley of the various musical motifs, and a spot of NEOWWWWWR riffing. This is the ‘end’, you see.
19:10 The cadence from Also Sprach Zarathustra.
19:18 The Grimleys Is On