WONDERING why John Martyn stands out of the crowd frequently leads to convoluted mental posing and a few smart arse one liners when the fact is, he just writes and performs superb songs.
Well Kept Secret is further down the alley cut by Glorious Fool1, this time without the tutoring influence of Phil Collins and perhaps more Martyn because of it. It's harsher than the hardest tracks there, smoother than the softest ones, and has been carefully nudged to further extremes.
These ten numbers don't have the risk of the new that gave Glorious Fool1 an unpredictable, nervous edge. Comfortable in a style, Well Kept Secret becomes more proficient at it. Casting the net to the Fifties, Martyn has come up with Never Let Me Go by Joe Scott and given it what must be the ultimate crooning, drifting, lazy arrangement topped off by a wispy sax solo from Ronnie Scott and a succinct vocal performance. Let anyone be bad tempered after this and they must have a case of terminal irritability.
The unfevered wash spreads across to Hung Up where the chorus turns with the tide and even up to the first song Could've Been Me that carries all the reluctant agonising of missed opportunities. To kill its ghost, Martyn comes in hard on You Might Need A Man snapping out questions and answers in the same breath, determined not to lose the chance again.
Three times the album stands up and stomps - on the raucous Love Up, the chugging Hiss On The Tape and Back With A Vengeance, all of which are tributes to Alan Thomson's perfectly formed bassline, no other shape could fit. The arrangements seem less perambulatory than Glorious Fool1 and always articulate.
Since everyone else persists in the mental posing, I'll have a crack and say that what makes Martyn's songs direct and unquenchable are that he writes not with moods or favours, but with urges, and they bypass the words on the lips or the notes of the day. - PAUL COLBERT.
1 Actually they printed 'Nobody's Fool'. Consequently.
This review was published in Melody Maker, 4 September 1982.
Photo provided by John Neil Munro.