Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Stephen Solo is a genius

I would normally title a review about a new album with the album title, but given that Pii 3 is the final in an outstanding trilogy of exceptional pop music, I felt the need to declare loudly and proudly that Stephen Solo, AKA Stephen Farrell, is a genius.

I have suspected this for some time, however after revisiting Pii and Pii 2 back to back over the weekend and Pii 3 numerous times, I am confident that I have enough evidence to shout this to the world. Check them out to see if you agree.

Both of the first two albums have aged well. You notice and appreciate the layers, melodies, imagination, voice and lyrics more in time. Solo is certainly eccentric, but that is just part of his charm, listen to the trilogy and you'll find a deep, soulful, intelligent songwriter, musician, artist, arranger and producer.

The trilogy has songs that discuss and confront love, birth, parenthood, aspiration, reality - often grim, the use of humour to get by, getting older, relationships, escapism ... the way Solo portrays his thoughts, dreams, fears and the dark reaches of his mind is unique.

Crying Because from Pii
One of the most beautiful, fragile, tender and imaginative songs I know 

The Pii trilogy started with Stephen getting an iPhone and downloading all kinds of apps to create music. Freed from having to fund studio time to record he let his imagination and creative nature run riot, producing fragile beauties, cinematic wonders, synth sensations and clever craziness.

Some songs will jump out on first listen, others will reveal their true worth with patience, but dig deep and you’ll find Albarn-seque melodies, Beatles-y harmonies and sonic adventurousness.

You'll find out more about how Stephen writes and records in a forthcoming podcast interview I have planned with him. 

Photo by Brian Sweeney

On to Pii 3.

I Ate A Motorcycle was the lead single for the album. If the title doesn't generate your interest then the flow and melodies soon will. The way this song changes and flows from 2-minutes in is simply magical, the way Solo plays with the melody and phrasing, introducing sprinkling synths is joyful.

I am more than human
I am more than a machine

Suddenly Heaven has a stunning melody over an 80’s groove with Solo showing off all of his vocal powers. This is sensational, the song lifts and soars with ease. This is real grown up pop music with Solo admitting to himself and anyone listening that he loves time alone away from work, stress, family, bills and reality. If I'm backing up the title of this blog, then this song is near the top of my evidence.

I feel more human, when I get to be on my own

Storm Chaser is kind of psychedelic Flaming Lips with Freddie Mercury on vocals with the beautiful line when the thunder comes she'll chase the storm.

The song titled Sweetest Melody jumped to my attention as this is a guy who knows a melody. It is gentle, soothing, becoming Beatles-y, dreamy and like it could be from a musical. 

Reasons to Run is my current favourite from Pii 3. Solo’s ability to take a song on a new direction at ease is evident a number of times throughout this song, almost going into a rap at one point. It is magical inventive pop music and listen to that voice analysing change in a relationship but declaring;

I will always, always run to you
For the same old reasons

Hold Music continues a theme throughout the trilogy of Solo finding humour and art in every day frustrations. Music is his escape from reality, but he portrays reality in a Limmy-esque way at times.

The Beatles and The Beach Boys crossed with Gorillaz is my attempt to describe Something Like Nothing Like Love. I marvel at the structure, lead vocals and harmonies. Everything is Solo.

Stars on Tape is a fragile gem that seems to be sprinkled with magical fairy dust. It has a dreamlike quality, it could be a lullaby. It is utterly stunning.

Block Out The Sun begins with a piano melody that sounds instantly classic. This should be picked up for a film or TV show. My heart melts when Solo soars amidst Beatles-y backing vocals. This is 5 minutes that to me highlights how good Stephen Solo is. The way everything breaks down and takes a twist halfway through is again like something from a musical.

The Dark Web could be a title for a book, TV show or film. Here is the theme tune. Dark, experimental, crazy, but with yet another soaring chorus. There is another glorious change in pace in this song with a Drive style bass introduced. 

The closing The Digital Dead brought tears to my eyes on first listen, the way Solo revisits Behind Your Eyes is tender and gorgeous, singing about his son in the most beautiful way, before ending the Pii trilogy the way it began. The final melancholic melody will melt your heart.

And though sunlight kisses your hair
We are the digital, digital, digital, dead
Behind your eyes I'll be waiting
We are the digital, digital, digital dead

Stephen Solo is a genius. Assess the evidence.

The Pii trilogy is available digitally via all the usual platforms.

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