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Lewis - Romantic Times

"Romantic Times"

Release date: 25 August 2014
Lewis baloue romantic times
01 August 2014, 11:30 Written by Alex Wisgard
​The plot thickens. Two months on from the re-release of 1983’s private press classic L’amour, a second Lewis album - released in 1985 and credited to Lewis Baloue, but with that distinctive visage once more gracing its cover - turned up on Ebay. The internet cried hoax until the seller, a warehouse-sized record store in Canada, posted fifteen second samples of two songs. At time of writing, the highest bid is at $1,725. That’s scary in itself. The day after the Ebay listing surfaced, Light in the Attic, the label who put out the last Lewis reissue, announce its formal release with an instant download for anyone preordering. Turns out they knew about the album the whole time - somehow - and the Ebay seller forced their hand. Hardly the ideal circumstances to bring an album into the world, but it’s somehow apt for the sounds contained within.

Compared with the lugubrious balladry of its predecessor, Romantic Times is the soundtrack to anything but. It’s desperately uneasy listening; the understated, bluesy picking, sultry piano ballads and underpronounced singing have almost completely vanished. In its place are eight tracks of queasy synths, basic bossa nova drum machines and the sound of a man at the end of his tether. We’re not exactly in Syd Barrett territory here, but we’re not all that far off; this is music that David Lynch would have turned down for a soundtrack for being too creepy. The breathy crooning remains, but it’s even more tentative, almost uncertain, and most lines are capped off with a spooky quiver - somewhere between a phantom Elvis impersonator and Buddy Holly at the moment of impact - which occasionally borders on quietly manic laughter. Almost every track begins with a sloooooooowwww fade-in, as if Romantic Times is the soundtrack to the tour of a abandoned hotel, haunted by Lewis in every single cobwebbed room.

If the album’s producer Dan Lowe hadn’t stated that Lewis seemed “under the influence” during its recording, you could have guessed anyway.

It opens with its most approachable track…relatively speaking. “We Danced All Night” is a stunning, shimmering thing; as with the tracks on L’amour, Baloue/Wulff’s quiet strums float atop glacial analogue synths and a calming swell of cymbals, and there’s even a gorgeous harmonising saxophone solo halfway through, which makes for the album’s one moment of pure unadulterated beauty. But after a few seconds’ of singing, you realise this isn’t quite an original, but a drunken ambient karaoke take on “Strangers in the Night”, as sung by a spooked Sinatra. That Lewis is trying to pass this off as his own (there’s no writing credit for anyone but him in the liner notes) is a testament to just how out of it he might have been when putting the album together.

Then things get odd. “Bon Voyage” is our introduction to Lewis as a drunken, crying clown. The track offers him little to cling on to; the John Carpenter synths wobble as if seasick and the factory preset drum machine rolls along, while Lewis staggers about the track, laughing and sobbing all at once. By the end, the song’s basic verse-chorus-verse structure seems completely beyond him at times, as he misses words and lines out altogether. And so Romantic Times continues.

All the way through the album, Lewis’s lyrics are far more intelligible than on L’amour. At times, you almost wish they weren’t. The songs’ basic sentiments, delivered via Baloue’s disturbing/disturbed cackle, begin to sound unnerving. “You can’t stop looooooo-uuuuggghhhh-rrrrrrrvvvvvvveeee-huuuhhhhh-hawwww..” he sings on the suitably repetitive “Don’t Stop It Now”. The sentiments of “Bringing You a Rose” may be innocent as cherry pie, the most romantic time described on the album - “I’m walking the street - it’s so niiiiiice,” it opens, “with my heart pounding in the darkness” - but when stacked up against the rest of Romantic Times, you begin to have your doubts. And “So Be in Love With Me” speaks for itself, but the low pulsating synth at its ominous core adds a fresh layer of dread to the song, not helped by a beautifully jazzy key change halfway through, which is signalled by a strangely clumsy stumble up a keyboard which comes completely out of leftfield.

So whilst amateur online sleuths are trying to discern just who Lewis Baloue/Randall Wulff really is, we’re left with a now-two-album catalogue of work that seems to chart a downward spiral. He may have the flashy Mercedes and private jet - and a spiffy white suit to boot - but more than a little cocaine psychosis to contend with too. Romantic Times may not be as good an album as L’amour, but it’s just as immersive, albeit in a much more sinister way - a bit like watching someone in the middle of a crying jag in the middle of a night out . Unless another Lewis album gets uncovered in autumn (no doubt under another pseudonym), I don’t think you’re going to hear a more gently troubling album this year.

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