Door One

David Longdon

English Electric, 2022

http://davidlongdon.net

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/17/2022

They say you should write every song, paint every canvas, and tell every story as if it might be your last, because, well, you never know.

Singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist David Longdon was in the prime of his creative life—frontman and co-leader of the rising progressive rock collective Big Big Train, proud father of two daughters, and devoted fiancé to the artist Sarah Louise Ewing—when an accident at home resulted in his death almost exactly a year ago. He had come home that evening from another day in the studio working on Door One, his second solo album and first since 2004’s Wild River. Door One was by all accounts nearly finished at the time, with just a few final instrumental bits to be completed under the watchful ear of co-producer and engineer Patrick Phillips.

For more than a decade Longdon was an amazing interpreter of his Big Big Train bandmate and friend Greg Spawton’s songs, and a major contributor to the group’s songwriting, but his interests as a writer naturally ranged beyond BBT’s typically rather cerebral/historical subject matter. Door One became an outlet for Longdon’s more personal songs, though the musical styles found here don’t range far from BBT’s melodic prog wheelhouse; this is smartly crafted progressive pop within a singer-songwriter frame.

If you’re wondering how much prog actually factors into that equation, Longdon opens the album with an atmospheric instrumental, “Into The Icehouse,” not exactly a typical choice for a lead vocalist stepping out for a solo album. Of course, Longdon was always much more than simply a talented singer with a rich, Peter Gabriel-adjacent tone; he also played keyboards and guitar (and in BBT, flute). On Door One he’s supported by a crack studio team that includes Jeremy Stacey (King Crimson) on drums and percussion, Hazel Mills (Florence + The Machine) on piano and synthesizer, Stuart McCallum (Cinematic Orchestra) on acoustic and electric guitars, Steve Vantsis (Fish) on bass, and Gary Bromham (Longdon’s former band The Gifthorse) on guitars, keys, and textures. The opening and closing numbers also feature Spawton on 12-string acoustic guitar, and sax player Theo Travis (Steven Wilson) features on several tracks.

“Icehouse” works nicely as a scene-setter for the anthemic “Watch It Burn,” whose rhythmic piano hook anchors a riffy, dramatic rock tune tracking the bitter dissolution of a relationship. Longdon was divorced from his daughters’ mother some years ago, so there may be some truth between these lines, but the important part is that the song is powerful, compelling, and insightful. “The cost of what we lost / Was such a hard lesson to learn… I want you to know that I still hold you to / Everything you did and didn’t do / When you were cruel / And you were so cruel / But I was cruel too…”  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

From that mature perspective Longdon digs deeper yet, as “There’s No Ghost Like An Old Ghost” makes explicit this set’s overarching theme of breaking through and achieving some kind of resolution with the elements of his past that have haunted him. The music here is more low-key and less intricate than the typical BBT approach, a fitting choice for lyrics this penetrating and direct. “You can’t run—you can’t hide / Because you’re running from yourself,” he sings, punctuating this line with a big spooky guitar solo from McCallum. The squalling, nearly discordant sax solo from Travis is a nice touch as well.

The explicitly autobiographical “The Singer And The Song” can feel a little on the nose at times but is delightful nonetheless, Longdon processing in real time his newfound status as the frontman of a successful touring rock band, a role to which he had aspired for many years but only recently experienced for the first time. “The stage lights burning so brightly,” he sings. “As I stand completely immersed in the song / Just riding this moment / I breathe life into the soul of it… This is just what I do / And how I make sense of it all.” Musically, this one has a late-Beatles flavor.

The initially stately and contemplative “Forgive (But Not Forget)” reintroduces the tough yet complex edge of “Watch It Burn” as Longdon asks “Were we just ill-matched? / This is why I say with regret / I can forgive but not forget.” It’s a heavy one, initially taking a thoughtful and deliberate approach to examining the wounds left when one partner doesn’t have the other’s interests at heart. As it builds, the middle and later sections take on a rather Alan Parsons Project feel.

Longdon draws from the same well of lyrical inspiration one more time as “Sangfroid” leads with an orchestral movement before delving into the heart of the matter: “She apologized for stealing his youth / But be assured that she took nothing / That he did not give freely.” This time the lyric is in third person, lending a bit more emotional distance, but it doesn’t make the song—whose cadences move from bright and matter-of-fact to a dramatic crescendo and haunting, extended denouement—any less affecting.

The penultimate track is the proggiest one here, the multi-segment ten-minute suite “The Letting Go.” “You don’t have to keep on doing what / You used to do / Don’t have to play the same old games,” he sings, using the metaphor of cutting a rope tying him to his emotional baggage to symbolize his newfound freedom. The musical accompaniment is dark and piquant throughout, with soaring guitar and sax solos leading up to the final minute, in which the whole band punches hard into the final crescendo with a sturdy guitar figure, crashing drums, and multi-tracked vocals. It’s a satisfying journey leading to a fundamentally optimistic resolution.

That resolution is summed up and celebrated in album-closer “Love Is All,” an absolutely gorgeous conclusion that weaves together the emotional strands of the album while delivering a simple and powerful answer to each of the questions it asks.

As always with albums from English Electric, the packaging and presentation of Door One is first rate, featuring an excellent, in-depth essay by Mike Barnes, gorgeous cover art and art direction by Ewing, and full lyrics and credits.

The heartfelt, meticulously composed and arranged songs found here deliver an honest expression of difficult personal truths, culminating in the realization that the keys to happiness lie in letting go of old hurts and letting love all the way in. David Longdon didn’t know this would be his last album, but he knew enough about the requirements of art and the vagaries of fate to end Door One on a high note, marrying hard-earned wisdom to a billowing expression of love. It’s both an excellent piece of work and a fitting coda for a life well lived.

Rating: A-

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