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Strictly Inc. (CD)


Getting to know an album without being influenced by the media or some singles played in heavy rotation on the radio is truly a privilege. This is what one reviewer wrote in his guest review of the most recent Mike + The Mechanics record. Once more can we now get an unbiased impression of a new album, viz. an advance tape copy of Strictly Inc.; of course, being influenced by singles is something that does not really apply as much to Tony Banks as to his band mates. History has shown that he is not really the big creator of potential super hits, the more so when he works solo. Whatever, it was definitely a good thing after four years to be able to listen to a new Tony Banks album again.


The album was recorded at The Farm, and Tony brought in a new band for the sessions. The only musician left from Tony’s previous records is Daryl Stuermer, who plays guitar on Walls Of Sound and An Island In The Darkness. Nick Davis produced the album which also has Nathan East on bass, John Robinson on drums and the singer Jack Hues who also played the guitar.

The first song on Strictly Inc. is called Don’t Turn Your Back On Me. A good opener and doubly impressive. First of all there is the voice of former Wang Chung singer Jack Hues! It seems that Tony’s long quest for the ideal singer for his music has finally come to an end. Secondly the track has a rather electronic sound, an effect that recurs on other tracks. The real instruments are wrapped in synth and keyboard sounds time and again, leaving the overall impression of an electronic but also an unusual album.

CoverWall Of Sound is one of the quieter songs on Strictly Inc. and it is not quite on a par with Don’t Turn Your Back On Me. Only Seventeen on the other hand simply begs to become the first single. It is not the disco-style beat that creates this impression, but the tune is catchy and stays in your memory. A real highlight is The Serpent Said, a song full of impressive elements. The drumming resembles John Bonham’s early style in Led Zeppelin. The Serpent Said is very dramatic and rocky – and has lots of variations and changes. Never Let Me Know is quieter again. A fantastic instrumental in the middle turns this ballad into a real gem.

Charity Balls is next. Jack Hues gives the piece its finishing touches with his special vocals. Charity Balls certainly is one of the more accessible songs on the album. The song after that is called Something To Live For. Though there are some rocky elements in it is rather an average song that does not improve because of the “guitar solo”. Perhaps one could say it is on a level with Wall Of Sounds.

A Piece Of You is far superior – probably the most beautiful ballad on Strictly Inc. A pleasant melody and an excellent selection of instruments make this a very harmonic song and a piece to remember. Strictly Incognito is the title song of the album. Typical Banks sound can be heard throughout this varied interesting up-tempo song. Listeners also learn, in parentheses, as it were, what the “Inc.” in the album title really stands for.

Carol Willis-Impey (Hit & Run / UK) explained the idea behind Strictly Inc. to us. The record company were worried that, upon reading the name of Tony Banks, radio stations would immediately shelve the single because “yet another” member releases an album. Considering the huge media presence of Phil Collins and Mike + The Mechanics at the time this is a valid argument.

The last track on the album will most likely never get played on any radio station because of its length. An Island In The Darkness is the longest song of Tony’s solo career – over seventeen minutes! It reveals a very different side of Strictly Inc. A piano intro that could have been written for A Curious Feeling leads into the piece before it moves on into a relatively calm sequence with pleasant vocals. After the a fast, rocky instrumental part ends in a piano passage that resembles the intro. This is not the end, however, but just a transition to the finale of An Island In The Darkness. The musicians really go hell for leather and show what they can. Surprising how soon a quarter of an hour can pass. This is a worthy finale to the album.

What can we say about Wall Of Sound is one of the quieter songs on Strictly Inc. and it is not quite on a par with Don’t Turn Your Back On Me. Only Seventeen on the other hand simply begs to become the first single. It is not the disco-style beat that creates this impression, but the tune is catchy and stays in your memory. A real highlight is The Serpent Said, a song full of impressive elements. The drumming resembles John Bonham’s early style in Led Zeppelin. The Serpent Said is very dramatic and rocky – and has lots of variations and changes. Never Let Me Know is quieter again. A fantastic instrumental in the middle turns this ballad into a real gem.

Charity Balls is next. Jack Hues gives the piece its finishing touches with his special vocals. Charity Balls certainly is one of the more accessible songs on the album. The song after that is called Something To Live For. Though there are some rocky elements in it is rather an average song that does not improve because of the “guitar solo”. Perhaps one could say it is on a level with Wall Of Sounds.

A Piece Of You is far superior – probably the most beautiful ballad on Strictly Inc. A pleasant melody and an excellent selection of instruments make this a very harmonic song and a piece to remember. Strictly Incognito is the title song of the album. Typical Banks sound can be heard throughout this varied interesting up-tempo song. Listeners also learn, in parentheses, as it were, what the “Inc.” in the album title really stands for.

Carol Willis-Impey (Hit & Run / UK) explained the idea behind “Strictly Inc.” to us. The record company were worried that, upon reading the name of Tony Banks, radio stations would immediately shelve the single because “yet another” member releases an album. Considering the huge media presence of Phil Collins and Mike + The Mechanics this is a valid argument.

The last track on the album will most likely never get played on any radio station because of its length. An Island In The Darkness is the longest song of Tony’s solo career – over seventeen minutes! It reveals a very different side of Strictly Inc. A piano intro that could have been written for A Curious Feeling leads into the piece before it moves on into a relatively calm sequence with pleasant vocals. After the a fast, rocky instrumental part ends in a piano passage that resembles the intro. This is not the end, however, but just a transition to the finale of An Island In The Darkness. The musicians really go hell for leather and show what they can. Surprising how soon a quarter of an hour can pass. This is a worthy finale to the album.

What can we say about Strictly Inc. as a whole? It would certainly be unjustified to say that this CD without An Island In The Darkness would have become an average album. There are too many really great and exciting moments. Jack Hues’ voice is excellent throughout. It really fits the music and we can imagine that this is the beginning of a fruitful partnership. The other guest musicians do a good if somewhat unobtrusive job. The overall impression, as Tony intended, is that this is a dark album. That is what makes Strictly Inc. very different from Bankstatement and Still (to name but its closest predecessors) and why you cannot really compare them. The earlier albums had mainly clean-cut pop/rock songs – Strictly Inc. leaves another, weirder impression. If people like this album, Tony has alleged, there may be another Strictly Inc. album. Let us therefore wish Tony Banks and this project the success he has earned so much.

by Bernd Zindler
translated by Martin Klinkhardt

first published in it magazine (#16, September 1995). 


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