Clint Mansell and Clint Walsh
Invada Records UK
In 2014 Clint Mansell’s girlfriend died. He contacted his friend and fellow multi-instrumentalist Clint Walsh to help him recreate Lou Reed’s Berlin album. The idea came from Julian Barnes’ slim volume about grief. In that fabulous book Barnes lists the ‘lasts’ that he shared with his wife – the last film Mansell enjoyed with his girlfriend was the concert of Reed’s Berlin album. Keeping memories alive is a way of keeping (a version of) a person alive. Mansell and Walsh have now made their own version of Berlin in honour of Mansell’s partner and in tribute to Reed too.
It’s wonderful – even without that backstory – but for me the original Berlin album was such a crucial touchstone in my teen years. So it was with trepidation that I first took the dive into this new set of recordings. But of course I had to hear it – Berlin is one of the things that made me love art; made me see and hear music as art.
In recent years Mansell is best known for his film soundtracks, including an enduring collaboration with Darren Aronoksky. Ahead of that he was the frontman of Pop Will Eat Itself.
This is Mansell back in ‘song’ mode and close to PWIE than his movie scores. It’s also closer sounding to music from 1985-1990 than anything from the 21st Century.
It’s three songs in – Men of Good Fortune – before we hear anything reminiscent of the original album; a wee lick of guitar as a reminder. Before that, the opening title track loses the cocktail hour café whimsy and clatter and goes for some mid-point between Enz-era Phil Judd and Ziggy-era Bowie.
Lady Day is for me the highlight of the album. It’s just such a stunning transmogrification. The song is unrecognisable but all the better for it – it’s like The Church or indeed Pop Will Eat Itself.
Good Fortune feels like if Nik Kershaw sat in with the Psychedelic Furs and Caroline Says I has the smudginess and sludgy feel of where Reed went directly after Berlin.
How Do You Think It Feels is a soft ballad here – and in a clever twist it feels more Pink Floyd-ian than Reed (fans will know that producer Bob Ezrin shared credits with both artists).
Ezrin’s most infamous moment on the original Berlin – and perhaps across his entire career – was recording his own children in a terror-tantrum. That’s gone from here. The Kids is arguably a disappoint in its new clothing – but it’s also understandable in an album that has sought to remove any of the hints of the original recordings and aim to be its own thing entirely. For me it’s the weakest track on the album, but I’m coming around to it. Deft wee bit of finger-style guitar is at least soothing. If I imagine it as where Elliott Smith might have got to with his music I’m instantly happier about things.
The Bed is another track that gives hints of its original arrangement but loses the deep depression and feels far more cathartic. And then Sad Song. Again, it’s a dramatic shift. Gone is the string glissando that frames the song (and would be purloined for Floyd’s Comfortably Numb later) and it’s to another of the better new romantic pop songs you never got hear at the time.a
Mansell and Walsh’s Sad Song is actually upbeat and feels like pre-Brit-pop. It’s a gorgeous uplifting outro. Particularly when you know the story of this album’s creation.
I haven’t gone back to the original album since hearing this – and that’s largely because on some level it’s still playing on a loop in my head. But I’m in love with this new album. And I also enjoy thinking a lot about the motivation for this album. That’s a love story and a coping strategy right there. Mansell’s been one of my favourite film composers across the last two decades. The best of his work defies works and categorisation. It’s simply stunning. The best of what’s on offer here comes close to that as well.
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