From Leeds, United Kingdom comes singer/songwriter Jim Bower with his new release Life Support. Bower has been musically active in Shatner and various other bands since the ’80s (and he thinks that’s old, but it doesn’t phase me!). This is Bower’s first “proper solo album” under his own name, and he says that “It's been liberating to not be capturing a band sound; I've really spread out into some varied arrangements with way more orchestral and keyboard parts than my recent output. Lyrically it's about how we respond to the climate crisis and covid, which highlight our interdependency and our duty to save each other's lives… but there's also a few laughs.”
Any time I see “Leeds” mentioned, I automatically think of The Who, and I’m sure most Americans share this tendency. As it happens, both Bower’s voice AND his music very much recall Peter Townshend, and that’s not a bad pedigree to have! Bower says he recorded “the basics” at home but then finished up at Eiger Studios in Leeds with producer Will Jackson, who adds guitar and keyboards and also mastered the album; Anthony Sergeant plays drums. Bower’s album is available on Bandcamp and on CD, but he’s also taken time to create videos for each or these ten songs on his website.
“Manifest Destiny” begins with Quadrophenia-era synths and a smooth Townshend-like vocal with Christella Litras singing background and offering vocal reactions to Bower’s dark lyrics: “As we roll downhill / No, there's no escaping a black hole / It's out of our control.” The next song continues the feel of dread left over from the Trump years, conjured with phrases like “alternative facts” and “false flag.” Musically it’s jumpy and machine-like, as all the people within the song line up obediently.
“Shut Up About Your Girlfriend” is every bit as funny and engaging as you’d expect, which is a welcome relief after the gloom of the previous tracks. “Shut up shut up shut up about your girlfriend!” Bower sings with great humor. I would suggest you stop reading this right now and play this track; it’s so dryly humorous and musically quite pretty. “Wrong” takes an interesting detour into DEVO territory; this is another funny idea where somebody is so wrong that “to tell you so, I wrote a song.” The music is strident, robotic and goofy but really fun. “You failed authentication / Until you’re verified / That’s an invalid statement / Access denied.”
“When David Bowie Died” is a moving tribute not just to the Great White Duke but many other artists we lost too early. Bower makes the point that the whole world seemed to unravel just after Bowie passed, and it’s hard to argue. After the cynicism and the humor, this song shows Bower’s empathy and hit me right in the gut, especially with the sneaky sample of David Bowie (or a great soundalike) playing piano at the end. “All You Need Is Time” is smart pop rock with great hooks, nice guitars and a sophisticated musical structure, including some Rolling Stones “Satanic Majesties” church bells. “Can Of Worms” returns us to Bower’s rightful fear of our current state of affairs with upbeat chords threatened by creeping dissonance.
“Life Support” features guest Lauren Bower on piano, on whose playing the song’s driving tempo seems to be based. The concept of life support appears to be a metaphor pointing toward a life-saving relationship for which the plug might be pulled; ICU beeps and nurse P.A. calls are included free of charge. I know this is becoming redundant but Bower’s Townshend throat muscles are especially strong on this one. “Starting Tomorrow” ends the set with a very funny paean to promises we make about improving ourselves tomorrow, or next week, or next year. It’s joyous pop rock, short and sweet. I daresay drummer Sergeant takes this last chance to channel a bit of Keith Moon, and the bass has an Entwistle urgency.
Clearly fans of The Who will love the sound of Bower’s songs, but Bower’s not a cover artist and his songs easily stand on their own two feet with tons of delight and nary a dull moment. Highly recommended!
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