Michael Nyman


Irish Times -- Two to Tangle -- 4 stars

Nov 13th, 2009

It began when the composer poked the singer on Facebook. That online encounter between Michael Nyman, the pre-eminent British composer, and David McAlmont, the soul-pop-indie singer with the beautifully fragile falsetto, led to a friendly lunch, a long chat and the hatching of an idea.

It’s a wonder the two never crossed creative paths before. Both, after all, are serial collaborators who search out like-minded souls, and The Glare is a smartly realised meeting of the minds. Using Nyman’s compositions as backing tracks, McAlmont turns real-life events and news stories into first- person narratives, using French Romantic painter Theodore Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa as an inspiration.

This isn’t the first time artwork has dovetailed with popular music – The Pogues borrowed the same painting’s concept for the sleeve of Rum, Sodomy the Lash . But McAlmont was more interested in how the painter used this and other canvases to document and report on contemporary events.

The pair’s News of the World is a fascinating digest. McAlmont’s distinctive voice and Nyman’s delicate wash of strings, brass and piano make fine work of songs about piracy ( Going to America ), Silvio Berlusconi’s libido (In Re Don Giovanni ), banking malfunctions ( Take the Money and Run ) and reality TV ( The Glare ).

Inevitably, perhaps, there are some moments when the concept becomes a constraint on proceedings. But the collaboration is at its strongest when McAlmont’s delicate voice locks onto a strand of melancholic emotion and finds the more personal side of these universal tales.

After all, he seems to be saying, there are tales of heartbreaking loss and lives left in tatters to be found beyond the bold print of the headlines – and these are the tales that need to be heard.

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