Light Engineering is another project from the prolific singer/songwriter Tim Hunter, a Yorkshire-based musician but also script-writer, actor, music-producer and record label owner (Northern Soundscapes). Tim describes Light Engineering as a side project, although given the above litany of skills he is clearly a restless creative sort! The name Light Engineering originated as a spin-off from the terms Dark Engineering, or Heavy Engineering, and is actually a hefty clue to the overall feel and timbre of this album – it could be described as lightweight, soft AOR, the higher quality end of synth pop. It’s certainly very influenced by 80’s mid-Atlantic vibes such as Mike and The Mechanics, Paul Carrack, Steely Dan, Ace, Supertramp etc.
In terms of players, Tim is yer main man in terms of composition, vocals, keys and guitar, but he’s accompanied by an array of friends and regular session singers (eight other singers in all), plus a combination of Jonathan McMillan and Dan Mizen on drums, and Dan Burnett on keys. Overall engineering and production is again done by Tim himself.
Of late, Tim Hunter has been concentrating on a number of tales from Yorkshire’s history, creating solo albums that are essentially concept albums. Readers might recall a Velvet Thunder review of his last, Living In A Looking Glass World, telling a tale concerning the links between Lewis Carroll and Whitby.
The Ghost In The Studio was intended originally to be another in the sequence of these story-based concept albums, but instead ended up being a set of generally related songs without a real story, but maybe with an overall theme. “GITS” is really all about trying to get somewhere in life (creatively speaking or perhaps seeking any goal), but ending up being a ‘Ghost In The Studio’ with nothing much to show for all the effort that has been expended”, says Tim. The song selection is therefore based around the themes of ambition, disappointment, envy, wistfulness and regret. Stylistically the material isn’t “proggy” enough for die-hard Prog-rock fans, and isn’t in the same story-telling mode as as his “Yorkshire sagas”. But Tim believes listeners often create their own “story” when hearing and interpreting the vibe and ambience of an album.
GITS does actually include three songs, written with lyricist Frederick McKinnon, that were originally planned to be on the full-length Captain Cook’s Journeys album. In the event however, a shorter version of the Cook album is what got released without the three. They do fit quite nicely with the GITS theme, and lend themselves to the soft rock / synth pop arrangements on here.
The song-set starts off with You’re Only As Old As You Feel. This is a straight-forward rock song, the idea being self explanatory: why shouldn’t we play rock when we are getting old? – and indeed listen to it just as avidly, says this reviewer! The tone of the album is set from the first keyboard chords – this is an album soaked in the 80’s! Could easily be Gerry Rafferty singing. There’s some nice lead guitar work, but it and Eleanora Neilsen’s backing vocals are mixed quite low down in the production, which sounds a bit muddy to me – more on this later.
Docklands Dreamer is a song about relocating from the north to work in London, and the effect is enhanced by Tim’s vocals sounding very like early Mark Knoppfler. It’s a nice melody and the synth chimes with the bluesy feel. The arrangement works, it’s gentle and melodious, with nice harmonies and flowing guitar towards the end.
Cultivate Your Garden was originally a tale about Captain Cook relocating a Polynesian back to his native island, but it works as a statement on making do with what you’ve got. And again that soulful, sparse, keyboard-led arrangement works well. It’s followed by Downloads Destroyed (The Music We Enjoyed), a deceptively chirpy Buggles / 10CC-ish song about how the digital world shattered many aspiring musician’s dreams (very much “Video Killed The Radio Star – Part Two”!) It’s good though,, but the drums again sound flat in the mix…as though the recording was mastered on the tape below…(sorry!)
Listening To The Light is a lovely melody, with lovely backing vocals, and a lovely low-key keys-led arrangement… it’s not about anything, but its just a lovely soft, poppy tune! The Lord Of Illusion follows straight on from this, similar floaty sort of arrangement and feel, but the lyrics are darker, warning against the perils of believing what you “see/read” online. But again, guitar and backing vocals are really quiet – maybe deliberately so but to me they could have been much more integral to the song?
Where Have The Songs All Gone? is a nostalgic look back at the great songwriting days of the past. Really reminds me of so many great singer-songwriters, notably 10CC and Paul Carrack. Lovely melodies again. I Want to Be Somebody Too is another song that missed out on Captain Cook, it concerns two people who are down on their luck talking enviously about successful people and say that they want to make it big one day themselves. Interesting that the percussion on this track is much more crisp and to the fore than on some of the earlier tracks, and the song is so much the better for it! The lyrics are a bit “earnest”, like they’ve been lifted from a musical, but the basic melody is great. One Man (Studio Band) follows, it’s a tale of a studio musician who was offered a contract by the Devil to make it big, but he opts for obscurity. And the title is unknowingly ironic, because it’s a nice song with strong vocals a la 10CC and tasty guitar but the mix isn’t right, the guitar is again too far back.
I’ll Find Where The Real Truth Lies, another song from the Cook archive with a hint of darkness and nice rocky band sound. Vocals remind me of the old Cornish folk-rock band Decameron (eeh!). The lyrics are a bit wordy, but the overall song works. Going To The Great Beyond is quite a doomy song about someone spookily trying to persuade you to take a bus ride to eternity. Again sounds like it is lifted from a musical, and is weirdly reminiscent of Dutch band The Dame who had their first album and short UK tour early this year. That’s a real complement, The Dame have really strong musicians and are destined for great things.
And so to the album’s closer and title track The Ghost In The Studio. It’s about someone who’s left behind very little tangible from his lifetime’s creative endeavours, but keeps on recording in a ghostly studio……It’s ironic that the song refers to dust on the mixing desk and such like, because although it’s a nice song with a great tune and basic arrangements, you can only just hear half of the musical parts. And that kind of sums this album up – there’s a lot of very good songs and talented playing on here, but I do have to point out that it could be so much better if Tim had used a “third party” to do the mixing and production – more clarity, crispness and better balance would transcend this album from merely “nice” to truly impressive!
There aren’t any videos available from this album, so here’s a visual taster from one of Tim Hunter’s peans to the Yorkshire landscape.