It has been a year and a half that Peter Cunnah's dance combo, D:ream, reformed as a duo with Al Mackenzie, has come to a new life with his single All things to all men that was released in September 2009. A new album, their third studio album, was announced to be recorded and soon to be released but it has taken some time for them to get it out ! In Memory of... has finally hit the stores, both digital & physical. I couldn't hep myself and bought it on Emusic to listen to it straight away without having to wait endlessly for an imported CD to come through the Channel, and shall I say it all comes as a surprise ; gone are the 90's sparkling handbag arrangements that I like, sadly, but Pete's voice is still as good as ever, the melodies are still catchy and the overall vibe is, like always, to get our feet moving to the rhythm of their beats. Except their sound has matured too. Some pop/rock influences have been added to their dance/pop mixture. Sometimes it sounds odd to me, but you cannot say they've gone the easy route and gone retro. They have re-invented themselves and evolved into a new D:ream, made of everything they must have gone through during these years.
The album starts with the 2009 single, All things to all men, in it's full length version (9'28 !) and I feared a little too epic piece of music with long instrumentals that would bore me ...but I was wrong : the intro builds itself fast into the song and I don't see the minutes pass by. All things to all men is very reminiscent of what D:ream used to sound like between 1992-1997 with some anthemic feelgood chorus you want to sing along to, and reminds me of Things can only get better, which still sound fresh and good today. A nice guitar riff has been added to follow the chorus and it sounds like some Johnny Marr part inspired from a New Order/Electronic song. It is a shame this song hasn't been the hit it deserved to be, but independant releases from self produced independant labels cannot spread in the worldwide charts, or can they?
It is followed by another New Order inspired track with full guitar, Drop beatz not bombs, that was promoted last year to announce the forthcoming album, but without a proper release. Once again, the album version is extended to full length with nearly 6 minutes but I, who is usually not too keen on songs that are over 4'30, take it nice and easy without needing to push the NEXT button of my music player. The song is more dance/rock though than the previous dance/pop hit but I wonder how a single edit would have sounded if released to the radios ?
Next is a funky nervous track of normal length (3'43) called Free thinkin' mind but the guitars are always there and it sounds like a revival of the 70's funk/rock fusion times. Nice but not what I would want to hear from Peter Cunnah.
Thankfully Gods in the making comes next and this brand new single sees D:ream back to their usual dance/pop with house vibe and new rock influences. Call this All things to all men, part II. Once again, the chorus is very catchy and the guitar is omnipresent this time, but it still sounds like dance music. Plus, very strong female backing vocals are featured on this one, like on most of their previous hits, and I wonder which diva has been called : TJ Davis, like back in the days, Sylvia Mason-James, whoever : she sounds good !
I'll be your dog follows with a reminiscent 70's funky groove, still mixed with some guitars and female vocals, but this time to full disco heaven. Peter's voice, when he sings the title line, sounds so raw and painful, that I imagine this could be a sort of ode to S&M love addiction, but I may be wrong though and should search for the lyrics online...
Into the fray starts gently and atmospheric but this all changes when comes the chorus with its rolling mad rhythm and guitar riff. This one is another psychadelic funky/rock affair that reminds me of the UK band Primal Scream, with electronic though. Despite all this, I like it. Maybe Peter Cunnah's smooth voice would make me love any kind of music ?
The song melts into the following one, Sleepy head and this time again, the verses are on minimal rhythm like for a midtempo but when comes the chorus, Cunnah's got us all confused, with a Beatles-esque melody. Then second verse sees D:ream female additional vocalist take the lead and the disco beats invade all spaces for a full hands-in-the-air house part that makes me horny and hard for more to come. Thankfully, more choir vocals - nearly gospel - are added to a soulful house break that sees the rhythm slow down and decelerate 'till Pete's vocal comes back and takes the song back into the Love is all pastiche with acoustic folk guitar... I don't understand this : it sounds like 2 different songs have been megamixed together. But that doesn't last long as once again this song melts with the following one, like some were on their first album D:ream on vol 1.
There is only now gets a pulsating dance rhythm, back with New Order guitars, become a funky rock-influenced dance/pop I would say. The chant is free and inspired, like a mantra maybe and I feel Peter Cunnah's pleased himself on this new one.
On U make me, D:ream gets balaeric percussions build a nice feelgood midtempo with sax parts and an euphoric chorus reminiscent of Sweet harmony. The point is they sound like The Beloved on this one, and I have always liked Jon Marsh's pop/house combo too, but I doubt the song is strong enough to become a single.
The point is I haven't heard lots of songs that would suit a single release format here. While nearly all songs from their two first albums were made of potential singles (and 7 were issued from the first !), I feel on this one, they have decided to experiment more and record an album as a whole, and not a collection of pop singles. Even though I don't dislike the result, I miss the D:ream I cherished.
The 9'34 final track, We are fans, surely doesn't make me change my mind as it starts with an hypnotic but uptempo pulsating beat on which layers and layers of music are displayed. It is only after 3 minutes that vocals appear and I don't even recognize Peter Cunnah. Could it be Al Mackenzie on the mic ? Or is it the rhythm loops that have penetrated my brain that have disturbed my mind and ears ? This couldn't have been placed anywhere on the tracklisting as it could only suit a final placing : as the last song, you want to hear it till the end as there won't be anything else on the album (and you hope for a hidden track maybe) but in the middle, inbetween other proper songs, sure you would have used the NEXT button to pass on this one. I hate the way this album ends... We are fans is all repetitive and the chorus line is even annoying. The best part is the final acoustic and instrumental melody on piano that closes the show.
So after this bitter end, my immediate feeling is that I don't need this album on CD as it doesn't belong to the D:ream discography I like, but then I take a look back at the songs and pick up some, this one, and then another one, needing to listen to them once again. In fact, most of them are good. It's just that they are mixing too much influences compared to the usual and former dance/pop I know Peter Cunnah for. Even in between these D:ream years when he's been writing and producing for others (Steps, allSTARS and A1 mostly, but also Sophie Monk, The Honeyz & Sergey Lazarev), he has made feelgood pop songs aimed for commercial audience, and I feel this album's target is more of an underground appeal. That must be the problem with me : I like it when it is straightforward, commercial and poppy/cheesy. In Memory Of... surely is NOT cheesy pop. So I will try to get used to its more underground vibe but that doesn't make it a bad album for most of you : so take a listen and judge by yourself ! My final aim is just to let you know it is out...