Well Kept Secret - Duke 90021-1

23 Jan 1983
Hartford Courant
Colin McEnroe
New pop/ rock releases

promo picture

John Martyn
Duke Records

These days, if you wanna convince people that you're really heart-stricken, you gotta sound like Gary Puckett on his deathbed.1

I'm not opposed to that, but I hadn't really divined the evolution of John Martyn into the Celtic version of Michael McDonald until now - those throaty blues warbles, those melodramatic lovelorn gasps. It's not that Martyn has completely shucked his art-rock past. Some of the music on this album is quite cerebral and unpretty; but the gestalt is one of gentle mooniness (no cultist implications intended).

Hung Up certainly is the best example of that, with its soulful crooning and clever (but not precious) mix of imagery. Not far behind are Could've Been Me and Never Let Me Go, which really stick one foot in the cocktail lounge - the kind of thing Gene Barry and various attractive women used to slow-dance to in television dramas.2 No matter.

It's a big leap from these to the thundering drums and raucous growls on Gun Money, the techno-reggae of Love Up, and the post-disco disco of Hiss On The Tape; but these songs do reinforce the notion that Martyn is more than just a throbbing heart who happens to own a couple of old Motown records.

The album's title alludes, I suppose, to Martyn's status in the world of mass marketing. It does seem a little unfair. The art-rockers have never completely embraced him, and the soft-rockers are taking their time about discovering him, now that he's following his buddies from Genesis in a more commercial direction. Doesn't bother me. I find him beguilingly maudlin, and success could only ruin that.


1 Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, American pop group that had some hits in de late sixties.
2 Gene Barry, American actor known for his leading role in Burke's Law, as a crime-solving millionaire.
This review was printed in the Hartford Courant (Connecticut) of Sunday, 23 January 1983. It was accompanied by an appreciation of Bob Seger's The Distance.

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