The unfortunate side effect of Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness’ respective careers being increasingly in the ascendant is that it takes them further away from the prospect of a new No-Man album anytime soon.
It’s a shame because as the reissue of Together We’re Stranger (2003) and Schoolyard Ghosts (2008) proves, the duo are an impressively effective partnership. Taking advantage of both discs going briefly out of print, these editions come with perspective-giving liner notes housed in very attractive gatefold card sleeves, and they benefit from what Steven Wilson describes as “less aggressive mastering”. Though typically sombre, Together possesses a brighter, optimistic soundworld with glistening bursts of acoustic guitar, elegiac woodwind, eddies of swirling Mellotron. The combination of this relatively simple sonic environment is ravishingly expansive. By Schoolyard Ghosts, the light has receded and a chill drifts over altogether darker musings. The controlled ferocity of Mixtaped stands out as one of the most harrowingly powerful accounts of an unravelling relationship committed to disc. If the two extras on Together are somewhat meagre, there’s a whole extra disc of demos and outtakes accompanying Schoolyard Ghosts. If you already have the 2008 CD you may be wondering if this new edition is worth picking up? The answer is an emphatic yes, revealing as it does the process of how phrases and ideas in the writer’s emotional lexicon translate and alter across different settings. Perhaps the highlight of this extra disc is Lucky You, Lucky Me a shimmering ballad, veiled in diaphanous Mellotron and an extraordinary, small-is-beautiful guitar solo. Understated but incredibly expressive, the very economy of the playing makes each note count and hit home. It’s baffling that this gem didn’t make the album and only surfaced on Warm Winter by Memories Of Machines, Bowness’ 2011 collaboration with Giancarlo Erra. Thankfully, it’s now back where it belongs.