Piece By Piece – Island ILPS 9807

8 Mar 1986
New Musical Express
Len Brown
Bobbin'n' Weavin'
John: 'Piece' puddin' | Pic Anton Corbijn
John Martyn

Piece By Piece (Island)

ONLY A heartless bastard would knock old John. I mean, 20 years of love-drugged poetry, dedicated to ideal earth mothers, cossetted in an arcadian atmosphere, and lazily proposed in that half-cut, bluezy-woozy, nodding-off voice. "Look at me, the dizziest dreamer/ that this world has ever seen," John sez 'ere. But how does he still do it? How many ways can he say, Hey baby, let's get mellow in the rain and wrestle naked in the hayloft?

On '84's Sapphire, Martyn seemed to be back in the driving seat, having escaped from the Phil Collins-contaminated Glorious Fool, which had him funked up to the eyeballs. Sadly there're still traces of grizzly Phil's soft options on Piece By Piece (such as Nightline), and little sign of Martyn's ethereal past on John Wayne, surely his most uncharacteristic role to date: "I've come to measure you/ fit you up/ I am John Wayne." Wot's he on about?

Okay, so I get nostalgic for Couldn't Love You More or his brilliantly moody Man In The Station. I know that he had to move on, that he couldn't eternally knit those fine lines into warm songs like Arran sweaters, but the folk-rock crossover John Martyn is still too patchy, with the man's traditionally moving guitar work shrouded in human gimmicry.

Lonely Love, the title track Piece By Piece, and Love Of Mine seduced me, while Angeline, the single, swoons closest to his romantic best. As was the case with Nick Drake, when John Martyn writes of love ("it's only love, sweet love") he always conveys his true feelings; for the vast hordes of hit-makers love remains precious more than money lust and pure dick.

Yes, only heartless bastards would knock Johnny. Sure, there's always been a couple of duffers on Martyn's albums (even Solid Air), songs that sit uncomfortably among his sensual soliloquies; about lost love, broken hearts, slivers of bliss. And this offering is no exception. Bits and pieces, chunky bits and pieces.

Len Brown

This review was published in the New Musical Express of 8 March 1986. The photo was a cropped version of a promo picture, with left and right swapped.
Material provided by John Neil Munro.

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