Figure In A Landscape

John Waite

Gold Circle Records, 2001

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/08/2001

What's more important: amazing record sales or artistic freedom?

If you really think about this, it's not as stupid of a question as you might think. Sure, an artist might top the Billboard charts, but how often are they the ones calling the shots when it comes to their music? On the other side of the coin, artists whose sales are nowhere near monumental status often are allowed the room to develop their music as they think it should be, not what a group of suits in an office thinks will sell. So while these discs might remain cult classics, they often represent the best works of that artist's career.

Let's call John Waite front and center - thanks to two readers who suggested we take a look at Figure In A Landscape, Waite's latest release. (Editor's note: Since this review first appeared, Gold Circle Records has closed its doors.) Granted, I hadn't followed Waite's career for the longest time - there was a point in the '80s where I became ill after hearing "Missing You" for the thousandth time in a day.

But to merely write Waite off as a remnant of the '80s - or even as an antique, arena rocker thanks to his stint with Bad English - never allows you to discover Waite the songwriter... and what a fine songwriter he proves to be. Figure In A Landscape is an album which has no formulas concocted in a boardroom by people who know less about music than my unborn children. Waite has no agenda other than to make the best album he can and to stay true to himself. With only a short lag, Waite passes this test with flying colors, and has released quite possibly the best album of his career. Pity that more people won't take the time to discover it. (Then again, who knows; maybe you'll be inspired to give it a shot after reading this, and it will multiply like that ad for shampoo from the '70s.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Daring to take on the duality of love and loss - often in the context of the same song - Waite bares his soul for 48 minutes, and with the assistance of a powerful rhythm section, he begins cranking out quality song after quality song. These are not tracks that will become hits - but it's not because they're bad, or because Waite has forsaken a pop mindframe. It's merely because people won't take a chance with Waite, be they consumers or mainstream radio.

And this, kids, is what we call a God-Damn Shame. I can count at least six songs on Figure In A Landscape which could easily become tracks which could wake up Waite's commercial appeal. Whether it's the happy pop of "Keys To Your Heart," the light spiritual musings of "Godhead" or the existential pain in songs like "Thinking About You" (complete with one catchy chorus), "Whenever You Come Around" or "Masterpiece Of Loneliness," Waite proves he's still a viable force to be reckoned with in the world of album oriented rock, or even adult contemporary.

Waite's vocals have smoothed out over time, and age has only served to make his delivery that much more powerful, as songs like "Always Be Your Man," a song which proclaims one's undying devotion to their partner despite some obvious turbulence in their relationship, bear witness to. Listen to "Always Be Your Man" and claim you're not affected by the raw, unpolished emotion. Listen to "NYC Girl" and try not to hope that the story will end happily. Listen to "Masterpiece Of Loneliness" and try not to be moved by the emotional rollercoaster that Waite paints with words. The simple fact is, you can't.

Only at one point does the energy seem to ebb - namely, on the track "New Thing". For some reason, this one particular number just doesn't feel like it belongs with the stark nakedness of the remaining tracks, and this one difference only serves to weaken its power. Chances are, had it been placed on a different album, I'd be singing its praises. Such is the fickle finger of the music industry.

One can only hope that this same fickle finger will point towards Waite and lead him back into the spotlight, as Figure In A Landscape suggests he never should have been ignored for rhis long a time. Even if Waite doesn't gain millions of sales for this disc, he can take some comfort in the fact that he's created a damned fine effort that is worthy of far more greatness than will be presented to him. Of course, if it does top the charts, that's all gravy, too.

Rating: A-

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© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Gold Circle Records, and is used for informational purposes only.