Tim Bowness- My Hotel Year (One Little Indian)
review by Jim Clark

Track Listing

1. Last Year’s Tattoo
2. I Once Loved You
3. World Afraid
4. The Me I Knew
5. Made See-Through
6. Hotel Year
7. Ian McShane
8. Blackrock 2000
9. Making A Mess In A Clean Place
10. Sleepwalker
11. Brave Dreams



Perhaps best known as the vocalist/lyricist of No-Man, Tim Bowness releases his debut solo disc, My Hotel Year. It’s inevitable that My Hotel Year would sound somewhat like No-Man, due to Bowness’ distinctive vocal delivery. Hell, even the cover art, created by No-Man graphic designer Carl Glover, looks like something that should be gracing a release by the British duo.

But Steven Wilson, No-Man’s instrumentalist/composer, doesn’t appear anywhere on My Hotel Year. In his place are a cast of talented musicians, including Gramophone’s David Picking, Henry Fool’s Stephen Bennett, Peter Chilvers, Markus Reuter and a pair of legendary performers in Hugh Hopper of Soft Machine and ambient guru Roger Eno.

The results are superb – a dark, haunting disc full of wonderful musical textures reminiscent of David Sylvian and Roxy Music, not to mention Bowness’ evocative voice. And while the disc definitely has a No-Man feel, it’s an excellent offering in its own right.

“Last Year’s Tattoo” starts the proceedings off in excellent fashion. Picking offers some simple though effective music while Bennett’s hypnotic mellotron playing in the second part of the song will simply burn into your memory. And Bowness delivers a set of depressing lyrics that would make Morrissey proud.

The electronic “I Once Loved You” goes for a steady groove, provided by co-writer Reuter’s touch bass and drum programming. Bowness’ vocals are sometimes straightforward and sometimes processed on this track, giving them maximum effect.

The sparse “World Afraid” features only Bowness’ singing, Picking’s keyboards and Bennett’s synthesizer. The song’s music, again penned by Picking, is quite chilling.

“The Me I Knew” returns to electronic territory with a drum machine keeping the rhythm along with Reuter’s touch bass. Again with instrumentation at a minimum, Chilvers’ two-note piano part grabs the listener and won’t let go. This song perfectly shows why My Hotel year is such a good recording – it illustrates that playing less is frequently so much more effective than playing more.

“Made See-Through” shows the multi-talented Picking playing a free form trumpet part that floats superbly in the background while he adds the drums and another catchy piano part. Chilvers lays some strings on top of this while Bowness gives yet another gloomy vocal which is multi-tracked in spots.

The brief “Hotel Year” has sort of a Kid A feel to it with Bowness’ backing vocals being cut-and-pasted in over Eno’s harmonium and Chilvers’ electric piano.

Despite another set of downbeat lyrics, “Ian McShane” has a very warm feel to it musically, due mostly to the guitar playing of Mike Bearpark and Bowness.

Bowness’ self-penned “Blackrock 2000” is yet another in the disc’s string of highlights. Acoustic guitar dominates the number musically, but little embellishments like Bennett’s brief synthesizer playing just grab the listener’s attention, as does the effect used on Bowness’ voice during parts of the song.

“Making A Mess In A Clean Place” is quite a startling difference to the rest of the disc. While the other songs are quieter in nature, this track starts off with a literal bang. Hopper’s fuzz bass dominates the song, which is in contrast to Bowness’ nearly whispered vocals. Frank Van Der Kooy hangs some random saxophone in the background.

The California, Norfolk String Quartet starts off “Sleepwalker” beautifully before Bennett’s exquisite electric piano and mellotron playing kick in. Bowness gives perhaps his best vocal on the disc as well as some poignant lyrics, “There’s no-one left to tell you about the lives you could have led.”      

“Brave Dreams” closes out the disc with just Bowness’ singing and Picking’s keyboards and occasional guitar chords. Bowness sings of someone in his dreams who will “never turn away.”

Picking must get a special kudo for the success of My Hotel Year. In addition to his considerable instrumental skills as well co-writing four songs, he performs marvelously as the disc’s primary producer. Simply said, My Hotel Years sounds great.

I highly recommend this disc. If you like Bowness’ work in No-Man, My Hotel Years is an absolute must. Even if you’ve never heard of No-Man or Tim Bowness but enjoy the likes of Bryan Ferry or David Sylvian, you should check this disc out. Or if you just want to listen to some achingly beautiful music, I suggest giving this a spin. Definitely one of the better releases of 2004.



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