Reviewing an album by a deceased artist is always a difficult game. On one hand, it can be tempting to heap praise simply due to nostalgia or emotion, but on the other hand it feels disrespectful to be dishonest. David Longdon passed away late last year, and it was certainly a shock. Approaching his debut solo record, Door One, I firmly decided to be as honest and sincere as I could, something I know David would have appreciated and especially due to the care this album has received by his friends.
David is best known as the vocalist for Big Big Train. BBT released a stunning record in Welcome to the Planet earlier this year, and he and the band seemed poised for a new era altogether. I think that is reflected in Door One, as well, since it is something of a departure from David’s normal style. This album was completed carefully by four musicians: Jeremy Stacey (King Crimson, Eric Clapton, Noel Gallagher, Sheryl Crow, The Finn Brothers), Theo Travis (Steven Wilson, Soft Machine, Gong), Steve Vantsis (Fish) and Gary Bromham (Bjork, Sheryl Crow, George Michael).
Door One feels like David’s transition from Genesis to Peter Gabriel solo, if you know what I mean. It is pretty different from what we heard with BBT, but not completely. This album has a bit more rock and pop in it, maybe even a little more whimsy and prophecy. David even dabbles in funk and jazz a little bit here. Right from the opener “Into the Icehouse” with its cinematic music, you can tell that David was trying to do something new. His vision is rock solid, to be sure.
One thing I must note, and it pains me to say this, is that David not only seems to change genre, he also changes his vocal style somewhat. There are moments where he doesn’t sound completely himself, and others where he clearly stretches himself beyond his capabilities. It doesn’t ruin this album, as I think it does add a layer of emotion that isn’t always present with BBT, but it can be distracting and certain moments do not sound very good at all. This is just my opinion. I actually found this issue to be worse when listening through speakers rather than headphones. I don’t know why. ***Edit: Steve reached out to me about the vocals. The vocals on this album were David’s guide vocals, so basically placeholders. He was never able to track the final versions. That explains quite a bit, actually.
It felt almost sacrilegious to write that last paragraph. I’ve always loved David’s voice, and so this felt a little odd. I will say that this tends to make the album feel quite raw, which isn’t a word I would ever have used for David’s music in the past. Still, he sings his heart out here, and he writes from the heart, as well. The lyrics are excellent across the board, with the closer “Love is All” feeling like David reaching out from the grave to grant us wisdom. It is an emotional album in that way.
The songs here range from good to great. I really like “There’s No Ghost Like an Old Ghost” with its blend of folk, funk, and jazz. It is catchy, yes, but has some thrilling instrumental portions that have plenty of groove. “Forgive (But Not Forget)” is another great one; it is something of a ballad with lots of space for David to emote and hurt.
The last three tracks on the album are the best ones, I think. “Sangfroid” is brilliant with its neoclassical flavor and subtle darkness. It is a smooth track with lots of beautiful strings and a rhythmic quality that feels amazing. “The Letting Go” is just as good, though, with its 10+ minute runtime, hopeful aura, fantastic instrumentation, and grand ending. Finally, “Love is All” might not be the catchiest song on the album, but it has weight and impact. It has this quality of persuasion and storytelling that makes it memorable.
I miss David. Door One is a solid album to end his time with us, and it was a pleasure to see a glimpse of his vision for a solo sound. He had much greater range than even I had expected, and yet he always performed with class and muster. While this might not be his greatest work, it is a beautiful and meaningful one, and I have a feeling that it will grow on my immensely.
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