Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review: Reissue of Murray Head's 'Nigel Lived'

Murray Head recorded one excellent single (“She Was Perfection”) for Andrew Oldham’s Immediate label in 1967, but he didn’t really find his unique voice until landing a role in a stage production of Hair and voicing Judas Iscariot on the album version of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1970. Those musicals’ union of pop and theater carried over to Head’s first solo album in 1972.  

Nigel Lived tells the story of an aspiring singer who leaves the safety of home to find stardom in the big bad, big black smoke. Instead of achieving success, Nigel succumbs to London’s vices and ends up hooked on junk. Reactionary? Absolutely, but Nigel Lived is still one of the more successful progeny of Tommy because of its eclectic arrangements and styles (Head dabbles in everything from funk to acoustic balladry to straight Rock & Roll to blues to chamber pop to a sort of avant garde pop), its excellent production values, and Head’s expressive voice, which veers from a Peter Gabriel-esque croon to a blue-eyed soul howl. The one thing Nigel Lived lacks is consistently strong songwriting. Things like “Pacing on the Station”, Ruthie”, and “When You Wake Up in the Morning” are good little numbers, but a couple of the more experimental pieces—the pseudo hymn “Pity the Poor Consumer” and the choppy and overlong “Junk”—are kind of bad. However, there are two genuinely superb standouts. Head manages to boil down the best of circa-1966 McCartney into “Nigel, Nigel” and recycles his own “She Was Perfection” for the lovely “Religion”. If nothing else, you have to admire the guy for trying different things regardless of whether or not they always work.

Audiophile label Intervention Records is now reissuing Nigel Lived with above-and-beyond care. The music is captured on two 180 gram records that play at 45 RPMs for maximum fidelity. Mastered from the original analog tapes, it sounds warm with crystal clear high ends and powerful lows that never get muddy. The super-quiet vinyl is particularly necessary for this release since Head paints large portions of Nigel Lived in near silence. Equal attention has been lavished on the packaging, which reproduces the original lyric sheet (with pages from Nigel’s diary to help you navigate the story line) in a heavyweight gatefold.
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