'Well Kept Secret'
(WEA K99255) ****
THE SYMBOLISM of this album's title and cover photograph, with Martyn standing in the shadows beside a cloth-shrouded picture frame and bust on a pedestal, is obvious and particularly apt. Art under wraps, a secret to the rest of the world; just as Martyn's magical music has remained pretty much a mystery to the majority of record buyers, his considerable acclaim among pundits and fellow performers alike never being reflected in unit-shifting.
Being the darling of the critics but a wallflower in the shops, left in the racks while everybody else is being taken out dancing, must be a frustrating situation for any artist.
But elitist, smug or pompous as this may sound, I really hope Martyn never lapses or is cajoled into prostituting his Olympian talent just for the sake of some, undeniably long overdue, commercial recognition – as indeed he just occasionally threatens to do on this latest album, particularly on Hiss On The Tape with its trite clap-trap dancefloor beat.
Overall though, Well Kept Secret is very much in the established Martyn mould, those beautifully swooping, sliding bass lines that used to be the forte of Danny Thompson's booming upright bass now being thoughtful and genuinely creative arrangements of Martyn's very real songs. Yes, real songs, not just simplistic pop pap or self-indulgent, head-up-the-arse 'meaningful' dross.
For the ballad lovers a la May You Never, there are gems like Hung Up and Could've Been Me and Never Let Me Go, as always coupled with snarling, fang-baring shouts of emotion such as Gun Money and Love Up, reflecting a harder edge than Martyn has honed on his music of late and giving balance and drive to the album.
Few artists have achieved Martyn's consistency of effort and quality of material over such a lengthy career and even fewer have managed to tackle such intimate and emotionally charged sentiments as Martyn invariably managed to pack into his songs without sinking into the mire of twee and farcical romanticism.
He's simply too good to remain a secret...
This review was printed in Sounds of 18 September, 1982 (page 37).