Halfway Across The Rainbow - Reviews


IMAGINE a slow song that opens with a soothing synthesizer backing, a strumming guitar, then adds a girl's voice of impressive purity and melodic sentiments of gentle celebration, and snap on a label for 1983. Then prepare to think again. Even it the first of these songs, "Waiting For Us". does tend towards the pastoral, there's at least a council estate at the back of the fields, and by the end of side two the feeling's definitely urban.
One of the strengths of this LP, in fact, is its unpredictability: though the same personality is apparent throughout, it covers a range of moods. Taking the increasingly popular and very useful format of the "mini-LP , this collection of eight tracks, the first release from Shiny Two Shiny, is of necessity something of a showcase, and the opportunity has been grasped with a vengeance.
Though the work of only two musicians. Robin Surtees and Flo Sullivan, there's no sense of limitations. Neither a synth group, nor a guitar group, though both instruments are used. they simply make the most of everything that's available: electric and acoustic guitars, synthesizers, drum machine, organ, tambourine and other percussion, and two voices. Yet their enthusiasm is tempered by precision. and if the resulting sounds are more complex than the kind of arrangements you would expect from a duo, it's always for a particular effect.
Sometimes the songs can be overwhelming or confusing (particularly on the darker second side), but always on purpose. Other songs (on side one) are structured to give an illusion of simplicity, with Flo's double-tracked vocals, clear and compelling, dominating the supporting layers of sound.
The two sides of the record, in fact, are as distinct as they're distinctive. Side one has the more personal songs. giving a pensive air with an introspective tone that's almost old-fashioned under the modern technology. Depending strongly on Flo's voice, it's very attractive, but never bland.
Even here there are slightly disturbing moments (in 'Through The Glass", for example, which has a synthesizer riff that's positively sleazy). The only really relaxed song is the only non-original, “The Boy From Ipanema". well suited to Flo's swooping voice.
Side two is less comfortable, though strangely enough also less individual. The synthesizers, for example, are used in a more conventional way, from the spacey sound effects of "Susquehanna" to "Concentration" which evokes early Dalek I in places. "Wake" and "Grey" are more effective, their harsh and desperate music matching the observations of futility and loneliness.
Obviously the record reaches no conclusions about an ultimate Shiny Two Shiny sound, yet (perhaps because of previous work together) they already have more individuality then other groups of longer standing and this lack of restriction is a part of that. What distinguishes them - apart from the obvious strength of Flo's outstanding voice - is their thoughtful adventurousness. This record shows them both experimenting with and displaying their possibilities, and proves them ready to make a mark.


SHINY TWO SHINY are a young Liverpool duo: Flo Sullivan (vocals, synths) and Robin Surtees (guitars, bass), both of whom used to be part of the irritatingly pompous A Formal Sigh, so it came as a pleasant surprise to find them turning out a promising debut.
The eight tracks on this mini LP catch them at an intriguing formative period. Some ideas work, many don't, but there's always something different happening which makes for challenging listening.
The sound is very much in the sensitive mould of the influential Young Marble Giants, but whereas their work always seemed rather restricted and ultimately empty, this record is colourful, sometimes sombre, sometimes gay, but never dull. Mood and atmosphere shift dramatically, the instrumental tinkerings providing a superb foil for Flo's soothing vocal nuances.
Side one is the more straightforward, containing four conventional pop songs. including a wonderfully fresh version of the Astrid Gilberto classic 'The Boy From Ipanema' (recently covered by Antena, to whom the duo bear some little resemblance), though the deliciously sensuous opener 'Waiting For Us' shows their own songwriting ability at its best: cool, very sophisticated, but always something more than the easy listening crooning which has been so plentiful of late. The second side is more experimental, less satisfying, but a creditable failure nonetheless.