by Jeff Fiedler
Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.
Unlike most of the artists I typically feature in this column, Breathe – a criminally underrated late-‘80s British pop quartet consisting of lead singer David Glasper, guitarist/keyboardist Marcus Lillington, bassist Michael Delahunty, and drummer Ian “Spike” Spice – doesn’t really have any particularly noteworthy origins (in contrast to, say, Andrew Gold’s early days as a near-one-man-backing-band for Linda Ronstadt or Nigel Olsson’s background as the longest-serving drummer for Elton John), nor did any of its members go on to greater fame after the band split. The band also wasn’t around for terribly long, either, breaking up after only its second album, so there isn’t much to be said about the actual story of the band. Yet, during their very brief existence, the British soul-pop outfit racked up five Top 40 hits in this country, including three Top Ten smashes, and the notoriously-difficult-to-impress American Idol judge Simon Cowell has gone on record in interviews as mentioning the band’s debut as one of his all-time favorite records.
All That Jazz, the 1988 debut album from the band, doesn’t differ all that greatly musically from the pop music of the late ‘80s, albeit slightly more organic and with a bit more of a jazz influence (Rick Astley’s third album, Free, and its hit single, the gospel-tinged “Cry for Help,” would make a fitting comparison, as would Johnny Hates Jazz’s Turn Back the Clock), but it’s some of the most well-crafted and gorgeous music of its era, boasting immaculate production, very strong melodies, and powerful, passionate vocals from Glasper, one of the finest vocalists from a technical standpoint from the latter half of the decade. [He’s comparable in many ways to Daryl Hall. The tones of their voices may be quite different, but they have similar vocal ranges and sound equally pleasant, and Glasper is as equally versatile as Hall, moving with ease from a gentle purr to full strength without ever sounding as if he’s straining – or over-emoting, for that matter – and being just as adept with a gospel-or-R&B-influenced number as he is with a straightforward pop tune. It’s rather stunning that a vocalist with Glasper’s gifts didn’t take a crack at solo stardom, actually; his is the kind of voice that producers of shows like American Idol, The Voice, and The X Factor dream of being able to find in any given season.]
The first single from the album to make a significant splash on either side of the Atlantic was “Hands to Heaven,” which stopped just one spot shy of topping the American charts. Like George Michael’s then-recent Number One hit “Father Figure,” the band wisely keeps the arrangement of this track very minimalist, providing Glasper with little more than just the gentle pulse of a bass drum and a dramatic tap of the rim of a snare as instrumental backing for the early part of the song, which gives the record a very hypnotic feel, and Glasper injects an extra level of passion into the song’s dramatic lyric by jumping up a full octave for the chorus (“Tonight I need your sweet caress …”) without ever actually sounding as if he’s over-singing.
The album’s next single and Top Ten hit is even better. The ballad “How Can I Fall?” didn’t chart as high as its predecessor, but it still didn’t miss the top of the charts by very much – climbing all the way to #3 – and it’s actually an even prettier song than “Hands to Heaven,” beginning with a breathtakingly beautiful piano intro before Glasper – near-unaccompanied – begins to plead “Give me time to care …” to chilling results. The song – which in some ways recalls the sophisticated melodies of Glenn Medeiros’ Michael Masser/Gerry Goffin-penned “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You” (which technically was first recorded by George Benson on the jazz guitarist’s 20/20 album, though few people realize this and the song’s consequently become most identified with Medeiros) – is similarly a remarkable showcase for the vocal talents of Glasper, and when he hits the high note in the line “What more can I say?” and manages to hold it for several beats until the chorus kicks in, the sheer power of his voice – he’s almost comparable here to a male version of Yaz’s Alison Moyet – is enough to make your jaw drop.
The band shifted gears for its third single from the album in America, the #10-peaking “Don’t Tell Me Lies,” which, unlike the prior two singles (both ballads), casts the band in a more up-tempo setting to equally strong results and downplays Glasper ever so slightly to allow the rest of the band a chance to show off their talents, and it’s Lillington that proves to be the MVP of the track with his cutting guitars and lovely keyboard work.
The album’s upbeat title cut – strangely not released as a single, in spite of being nearly every bit as catchy as infectious as the three aforementioned songs – hints at the direction the band would move in on its next album with an ever-so-slight gospel influence, and Glasper seems to be having more fun here than on any other track on the disc, and for good reason: the sunny and bouncy jazz-pop of the cut makes it the most charmingly carefree and danceable cut to be found on the album.
The very soulful lite-funk of the brass-laden album-opening “Jonah” is also a major standout and similarly could have been a hit in its own right, while the excellent ballad “All This I Should Have Known” (a minor adult-contemporary-radio hit) returns to the spare ambience of “Hands to Heaven,” again highlighting the passion of Glasper’s voice to powerful effect but injecting more of a rock vibe than that single as it builds.