Grace And Danger

JOHN MARTYN: Grace And Danger.

THERE ARE no easy, sing-along choruses on this album, no simple riffs or rhythms for dancing or breaking up the furniture to, not even any off-the-cuff commentary on the sad state of the world. And while I don’t feel this reaches the towering standards of John Martyn’s last vinyl achievement, the remarkable ‘One World’, it still possesses a magnetic warmth and charm (old fashioned attributes in these terrifying times, I know) that is both rare and precious.

This is not a record that throws up easily categorised highs or lows, as typified by the almost perverse way Martyn starts off with the comparatively muted ‘Some People Are Crazy’ followed by the more traditional dynamics of the title track. It’s more the kind of album that you play all the way through, and then put the stylus back at the beginning again, allowing yourself to be mesmerised by Martyn’s strange and colourful finger paintings of sound as they wash over you in a warm, languid wave.

Martyn is one of the few artists undeniably in a rich and fertile field of his own making, possessed with a highly inventive and beguiling controlled free-form style that defies both description and emulation – a jigsaw puzzle of guitar that he blends into his own multi-textured wall of sound.

While others wallow in the keyboards (courtesy of Tommy Eyre), drums (Phil Collins), an all-important hedge-hopping bass (John Giblin) and his own heavily phased and distorted egotistic excesses of advancing technology, Martyn stands out as one of the most individual and constructive exponents of electronic effects, using them as the very heart and soul of his music as opposed to self-indulgent frippery — like the fiercely phased guitar that grinds out the rhythm to ‘Johnny Too Bad’ or the heavy phase effect that bounces back and forth across the speakers on ‘Hurt In Your Heart’ like waves crashing against the shore while the bass and ping-pong synth weave and whirl above like seagulls on the wing.

This may all sound pretentiously poetic, but John Martyn is almost unique among current artistes in his ability to deal in the more introverted emotions of romance and compassion while still keeping the music vibrant and relevant.

David Lewis
15 November 1980