Singer Paul Menel has had a stop-start musical career. His star shone briefly and not particularly brightly for a few years in the late 1980s when he fronted IQ, replacing Peter Nicholls. While Menel didn’t possess Nicholls’ enigmatic charisma, he made a brave fist of fronting the band during a period when they pursued a more commercial direction. While sales of 1987’s Nomzamo and 1989’s Are You Sitting Comfortably? ultimately disappointed, those remain fine, distinctive albums that sought to cross-sell the band to a more mainstream audience.
After …Comfortably? Menel swiftly disappeared from view and these two albums are his first releases in over 20 years. The wryly titled Carpenter From Nazareth Seeks Joiners isn’t a completely new album per se. Rather it dates from the mid 1990s following Menel’s departure from IQ, but never saw the light of day. It’s intriguing to hear the direction in which IQ might have headed if they had continued to pursue the more mainstream trajectory.
In particular it’s conceivable that closing track Let’s Hear It For Freedom – apparently rejected by IQ – could have heralded a breakthrough of sorts for the band. While the production sounds rather dated and some tracks work better than others, Carpenter… deserves its resurrection with tracks such as Sight Unseen, Life Unsung, Second Skin and Better Man Than Me impressing in particular.
Better however is Into Insignificance I Will Pale, which runs to no fewer than 17 tracks. It kicks off with the excellent Under Your Wing, which builds beautifully musically while treading the fine line between heartfelt and cloying. Thereafter it’s a slightly mixed bag. Many of the songs are little gems. The Nurse is quirky both musically (recalling a jazzy Supertramp) and lyrically (referencing poets Shelley and Byron). The upbeat Mr Silhouette and Twenty One, and the funky This Is The Thanks I Get represent catchy crossover progressive pop at its best.
The delicate She’s Up On The Chair showcases Menel’s ability to paint vivid lyrical pictures. But there are a couple of absolute stinkers here as well, most notably Let’s Do It. Having been expanded from 10 tracks, some judicious song selection would have made for a more consistent album.
These two albums won’t appeal to everyone – Menel’s oeuvre is progressive pop rock rather than full-on rock. But it’s undeniably good to see Menel back in action and his soulful voice has weathered the passing years of comparative inaction remarkably well.