The Apprentice – Permanent PERM LP1

14 Apr 1990
New Musical Express
Gavin Martin
The Apprentice (Permanent LP/Cassette/CD)

THE TITLE'S partially a joke, partially false modesty. Martyn's both a veteran and a survivor who transcended his early folkie singer songwriting with a sly snaking style. He used jazz chordings and distended vocals to brood on matters of the heart. On albums like Solid Air or Sapphire, the ultimate refinement of his style, he swam through turmoil and troubled water with a distinctive blend of bluesy growling and gracious ease.

The Apprentice is his first album in 18 months, and he's back from the clutches of an alcohol and hard drug habit which threatened to wreck his inimitable muse. And while the fact that Martyn has surmounted personal demons should be cause enough for cheer, The Apprentice doesn't invite a full blown celebration. His mastery of texture and atmosphere is all there, Martyn uses space and quietude in a way which should be instructive to fans of the Cowboy Junkies or even fellow mellow composition evocative enough to allow him to stretch to the other limits of his craft.

The opening Live On Love signals the tenor in which the newly revitalised Martyn is casting himself buoyant, optimistic with a preponderance of melodies that veer towards easy listening territory; OK if you're Chris Rea, but with Martyn you expect more maverick intensity.

Not that The Apprentice is a Sheppard, it's a gorgeously maintained slice of slow burning desire to rank with his best work. But in general The Apprentice is the sound of John Martyn treading water. Perhaps it's best to regard it as an album of recuperation, next time round he may be ready to face a few challenges. (6)

Gavin Martin
promo picture
The Rea-l John Martyn

A few typos have been corrected.
This review was published in the NME of 14 April 1990. Material dug up by John Neil Munro.

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