Rupert Hine - Surface Tension - The Recordings 1981-1983
Most people familiar with the name Rupert Hine are likely to know him primarily for his work producing a multitude of bands including Camel, Saga, Chris DeBurgh, The Fixx, The Waterboys, Tina Turner, Stevie Nicks, Rush and many, many more, but he also had numerous releases, both solo and as a bandmember. He got his start as half of the folk duo Rupert and David, who in 1965 released a cover of “The Sound Of Silence”, which was most notable for the fact that if featured a young studio musician named Jimmy Page. In the early seventies he recorded a couple albums for Deep Purple’s Purple Records and then a few more fronting the band Quantum Jump who had a UK hit with the song “The Lone Ranger”. Following the demise of that band he released a trio of albums where he worked closely with lyricist Jeannette Obstoj and engineer/co-producer Stephen W Tayler. This three CD boxset, Surface Tension – The Recordings 1981-1983 collects those albums (remastered by Tayler) along with seven bonus tracks.
First up is his 1981 release Immunity, which is definitely the most experimental of the three, and when you realize how long ago it was released you see just how ahead of its time it was (Tayler does a great job in the liner notes of explaining what they did in the studio to create the sounds and effects here). Having said that, the experimentation doesn’t diminish the catchiness of the songs. Opening cut, the aptly titled “I Hang On To My Vertigo”, is a dark and haunting, yet very captivating, tune that creates a strong sense of tension. That tenseness is something that shows up in several other songs, most notably the almost ethereal soundscape of “Samsara”, the taut “Surface Tension” and “I Think A Man Will Hang Soon”, which uses a lot of effects and intense keys to give it a horror film vibe. “Psycho Surrender” is a quirky, yet fascinatingly catchy, synth heavy track enhanced with clarinet and recorder along with pre-sample era samples of things like milk bottles and pouring water to create percussion, while closing track “Make A Wish” is a complex 6 minute track that is both disjointed and a bit disorienting, yet very infectious. Several tracks also have some big name contributors including Marianne Faithful’s guest vocals on “Misplaced Love”, which has all the makings of an early MTV era hit, and Phil Collins plays drums on two tracks. “Immunity” is a sprightly cut with bouncy keys and upbeat, almost jazzy percussion while “Another Stranger” mixes a lot of stabbing synths and electronics with Collins’ distinctive playing. Closing out disc one are the first two bonus tracks, “Scratching At Success” (b-side to “The Curious Kind” single from the next album), a slow, dark tune that sets a very haunting mood and the instrumental “Introduction To The Menace”.
While the experimentation continued on the follow-up Waving Not Drowning, the songs this time around were a little more accessible and the synths were pushed more to the background with piano moved to the front. Opening track “Eleven Faces” is a perfect example of this with its catchy, yet very quirky, song arrangement and the very prominent piano. While they still have hints of experimentation, tracks like “The Curious Kind” and “The Set Up” are very radio friendly and not so far removed from his work producing The Fixx. Recorded during a thunderstorm that can be heard throughout the song, “Dark Windows” is a gorgeous, very stark and haunting tune with Hine’s piano accompanied by distorted synths and thunderclaps providing the beat. With strong percussion giving it a hard driving beat, effects laden vocals and dark lyrics listing ways to die, “The Sniper” is the most intense track here, which is enhanced further at the end with squawking sax and distorted guitar. Phil Collins makes another appearance here, this time around playing marimba, timbales and tom-toms on the bouncy, upbeat synth driven “Innocents In Paradise”. Dedicated to South African anti-Apartheid activist Donald Woods, who was a friend of Stephen Biko, “House Arrest” is a dark and complex piano driven track with layers of effects and synths underneath. “The Outsider” is a slow and mysterious cut that starts with a constant metronome like click, lots of swirling synths that sound like they are whirling around you like a storm, and orchestration and choral arrangements that Hine played on a Synclavier PPG Wave 2. Closing cut, the six minute “One Man’s Poison,” starts out as more of an offbeat synth pop tune, but then builds to a big rock song finish thanks to Phil Palmer’s guitar solo and the drums and crashing cymbals of Steve Negus from Saga (Hine had just started producing their Worlds Apart album). Bonus track “Kwok’s Quease” is a upbeat little ditty with lyrics about mono-sodium glutimate and in Hine’s words, “it represents a sense of humour that I might have liked to have include at the time, to offset the ‘darker side’.”
The Wildest Wish To Fly is the third album here and while for the most part it’s definitely not anywhere close to mainstream pop, it is considered the most accessible of the three. This is rumored to be due in part to his work with Robert Palmer at this time. Hine played on his Pride album and Palmer sings on four of the songs. Guitarist Jamie West-Oram from The Fixx also contributes guitar on three. Palmer shares lead vocals with Hine on opening track “Living In Sin”, a bouncy pop tune that’s reminiscent of Palmer’s earlier solo stuff, while West-Oram plays on “No Yellow Heart” (along with Phil Palmer), a synth heavy tune that’s somewhat reminiscent of The Fixx. Both of these tracks really display this less experimental side. Following the quirky new wave-ish “The Saturation Of The Video Rat” is the gorgeous “Firefly In The Night”. Arguably the best track here, it is a gorgeous melancholy tune largely comprised of piano and voice with gentle keyboard washes swirling in the background. The thought provoking “A Golden Age” is a very cold track that at times has an almost militaristic beat and some very thought provoking lyrics, while "Picture Phone” is a bouncy synth driven tune with a bit of a Thomas Dolby vibe and lyrics that are dead on in predicting our reliance on electronics. Hine’s more accessible side shows once again on “The Victim Of Wanderlust,” a light and bouncy, hook-heavy syth-pop tune. “The Most Dangerous of Men” is an interesting track that opens with chanting vocals from Hine and Palmer then adds piano, synths and a steady beat that creates a really infectious groove. The title track closes the album and like the closing tracks on the other two albums, it is over six minutes long, and brings the more experimental side back to the forefront with lots of dynamics and tempo shifts and even a little bit of a prog vibe at times. Disc three closes out with four more bonus tracks starting off with “Blue Flame (Melt The Ice),” a very infectious tune that has eighties synth pop written all over it. While it was released as a single, there ended up being three different versions of the album and only one version actually included that track. The original version of the album was released everywhere but North America. Almost a year later a second version was released in The US and Canada, which replaced “Victim of Wanderlust” with two tracks from the Immunity album. The following year a third version was released in the UK that was the same as the original with the exception of replacing “Living In Sin” with “Blue Flame.” Some of the tracks on the last two were also remixed or re-edited. “An Eagle’s Teaching” is a beautiful, very stripped down track with Hine’s vocals accompanied largely by some delicate piano and some gorgeous guitar. It shows a different side to him and it’s a shame it was relegated to the flipside of the “Living In Sin” single. The last two bonus tracks are a remix of “Picture Phone” and a later version of “No Yellow Heart,” both of which have some subtle differences, but nothing major. It's a shame that Hine never got the recognition as an artist like he did as a producer, but thanks to Esoteric and Cherry Red hopefully a new generation will get to appreciate his music and if we're lucky maybe they will give us a box set with his next three albums that he released under the pseudonym Thinkman.