GUEST: Richard Barbieri and Tim Bowness – Flame

29 August 1994

This is not a big album. There’s not a whole lot in the way of big moments or expansive soundscapes. This is the result when two acquaintances get together and jam for a little bit.1 Flame is a modest record with modest ambitions,2 and in many respects, this is of a piece to the sort of albums that Barbieri worked on with Jansen and (occasionally) Karn at about this time: some small, simple melodic noodlings,3 with a little help from their friends.4 The musical personalities of the two men at the center do show though in the music; through his vocals, Bowness injects a particular delicacy and vulnerability into Barbieri’s darker, more dispassionate synths and keyboards.5 Beyond that, though, there’s not a whole lot to recommend here.6

1 The obvious comparison to Storm Corrosion is both accurate and inaccurate. Accurate in the sense that you should probably expect a one-off collaboration between two progressive-minded musicians to be a jam session, and inaccurate in that people—rightly or wrongly—were expecting Storm Corrosion to be something completely different, and that the album Wilson and Åkerfeldt actually produced is still pretty good.
2 Spoiler alert: I don’t like Flame all that much. But let me be clear, I’m not knocking Flame for being a modest record. Worlds in a Small Room is a modest record and it’s fantastic. So’s Lightbulb Sun, when we get to it. The problem is in the execution, not the concept, and here the execution is…considerably less than the sum of its parts.
3 I feel like if you’re gonna make a modest record, what it lacks in terms of ambition it should make up for with mood, and here they’re only partially successful. In other words, when Flame falters, it falters in the same way acoustic coffeeshop covers of pop songs falter.
4 This round the friends include common denominator Steven Wilson, Steve Jansen, Mick Karn, both Chris Maitland and Gavin Harrison, and Michael Bearpark. Wilson contributes some appropriately spacey guitars to Flame and Song of Love and Everything. And, just like last time, I didn’t notice that was him at first listen. That’s not a strike against his work at all, it just means it fits.
5 In other words: this is an album that only could have been made by these two people in particular. I will be honest, this combination is only partially successful. Bowness’ voice is better suited for songs that are brighter and airier than the stuff Barbieri & co compose for this record. It’s not a coincidence that the song featuring Bowness’ best performance, Brightest Blue, is also the album’s, er, least dark song. But all the same it’s an interesting experiment.
6 I lied. That sax in Time Flown is pretty cool.