Taking over where Eleanor Rigby left off, Songbook #1 replaces the traditional rock’n’roll rhythm section with a string quintet and imposes a similar ban on amplified instruments and percussion in favour of brass and woodwind arrangements.
Once you’re past the novelty aspect, the album becomes compelling, particularly as you realise the songs could have had a conventional ‘rock’ treatment but the different setting alters the way you listen to them. Not that the album does itself any favours: the first few songs are more angular than melodic and the strummed acoustic guitar at the start of track four arrives as a familiar relief.
There’s no bias against technology when it comes to recording, however, and the 5.1 mix on the accompanying DVD is sumptuous. The problems arise with the half a dozen different singers, including ‘lost’ soul boy Lewis Taylor and Andy (brother of Thom) Yorke, that disturbs the album’s continuity. And then there’s the wilfully enigmatic nature of The Vicar himself – a good friend of Robert Fripp, apparently – that is an unnecessary distraction.