All-Time Albums: #23


DAVID SYLVIAN Secrets Of The Beehive

1 September 1:18
2 The Boy With The Gun 5:18
Maria 2:50
Orpheus 4:51
5 The Devil’s Own 3:12
6 When Poets Dreamed Of Angels 4:47
7 Mother And Child 3:15
8 Let The Happiness In 5:37
Waterfront 3:36

Five years into a solo career following the demise of Japan in the early 80s, David Sylvian was still on Virgin Records but a significant portion of his fanbase had been eroded by a succession of ever-more esoteric releases. The Top 5 chart debut of 1984’s Brilliant Trees, and its Top 20 single Red Guitar, now seemed to belong to an alternate universe, and one which it’s fair to say Sylvian showed no great wish to be a part of.

The two year gap between Brilliant Trees and 1986’s ambitious double-set Gone To Earth was offset by a mini-album/EP Words With The Shaman, so perhaps it ought not to been that much of surprise when another brand new studio set emerged as the clocks went back in October 1987.Secrets Of The Beehive, despite a 4AD-influenced sleeve suggesting yet more sepulchral ambience, turned out to be a concise album of largely acoustic songs clocking in at just over 35 minutes. There was still plenty of atmosphere, as Ryuichi Sakamoto returned to the fold and helped fashion some stunningly spooky backdrops for Sylvian’s inimitable croon.

Many of the 100 albums featured in this countdown seem to be from the stage in an act’s career where they cross a threshold from the margins to the mainstream (either creatively or commercially), or their determination to achieve artistic fulfilment takes them in the opposite direction. Secrets Of The Beehive is another case in point, the last of his albums to flirt with anything resembling the charts or Radio 1, and one which saw him fuse the sophistication of Gone To Earth with the traditional song structures of Brilliant Trees.

That record’s minor hit single The Ink In The Well is the definite touchstone here, and the manner in which its poetic style was set to an arrangement of woodwind, acoustic guitars, bass and trumpet becomes a common theme throughout. The sequence from Orpheus to Mother And Child plays on similar musical and lyrical motifs to the extent that it feels like a mini song-suite, bookended by the album’s two major mood pieces Maria and Let The Happiness In (imagine Think For A Minute by the Housemartins via Talk Talk’s The Colour Of Spring LP).

The opening September recalls the Sylvian/Sakamoto classic Forbidden Colours for all of its 90 seconds, which made the decision to put a 1984 re-recording of that song onto the end of original CD copies as a bonus track not quite so bizarre.

1987 was of course the year I was playing my Suzanne Vega CDs to death, and in a funny way, Secrets Of The Beehive shares a similar vibe; the Greek Mythology and Spanish/Portuguese references (some direct, some merely evoked), the eerie sound to some of the tracks that brings to mind dusty, deserted villas in need of sunlight, and just the way the guitars have been recorded and placed in the mix. I would actually play Solitude Standing and Secrets Of The Beehive back to back on many occasions during the winter of 1987.

Gone To Earth was the first David Sylvian album I ever bought, but its sheer diversity and scope made it difficult to enjoy in one sitting, and a struggle to resist fast-forwarding some of the ambient pieces. Secrets Of The Beehive was the complete opposite, a batch of songs that didn’t go on for 9 minutes and worked as a loosely-themed whole.

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