Review by Katherine Stratton
At first glance, the concept behind Mike + The Mechanics’ ninth studio album Out of the Blue seems unusual. The track listing consists of three completely new songs (all co-written by Mike Rutherford, Andrew Roachford and Clark Datchler of Johnny Hates Jazz), followed by eight re-recordings of Mechanics classics. A deluxe CD edition of the album adds six acoustic versions of previously released Mechanics songs. While some may understandably balk at the idea of an album that is largely made up of older material, Out of the Blue seeks to bridge a gap between what the audience hears at a show and what they can listen to at home, while also giving us an idea of what could be to come in the band’s future.
Opening track One Way demands your attention with its almost Mama-esque beat that, when combined with Andrew’s vocals, creates a song that is modern and sensual, testing the boundaries of the traditional Mechanics sound. The title track Out of the Blue is polished and uplifting, slightly reminiscent of The Road’s It Only Hurts For a While. What Would You Do rounds out the new offerings with a funkier, light-hearted style that offsets the song’s more serious lyrics. All three of the new songs are strong, and build on the foundations of Let Me Fly, making one hopeful that the band’s writing partnership with Clark Datchler continues.
The choice to transition between the new and old with The Living Years is a good one, easing us in through Andrew’s sung preamble that listeners may recognise from their live shows. Overall, the re-recordings successfully tread the balance of familiarity and evolution, maintaining the integrity of the originals while still introducing the individuality of the current band. Obviously, the most striking difference is in the voices. It’s impossible to write about Andrew’s style without using the word ‘soulful’, and this is no exception. He is both rugged and warm at the same time, which works so well for a song as momentous as The Living Years. Tim Howar’s voice is forward and friendly, managing the rousing nature of a song like Word of Mouth as easily as the humility of a song like Beggar on a Beach of Gold. The only noticeable issue is that Tim’s voice does not always come across as clear as Andrew’s, which is a shame.
While many of the arrangements remain very close to the originals, there are a number of subtle updates that add to the songs, such as the more intricate and developed bassline of Silent Running, additional keyboard elements during The Living Years, or the replacement of All I Need is a Miracle’s final keyboard solo with Anthony Drennan’s masterful guitar. From start to finish, you can hear the individual imprint of each member of the band, all of whom have come to shape the sound and feel of Mike + The Mechanics in their current form.
The bonus disc of acoustic versions is a welcome addition to the package, as an acoustic segment is such a key part of a live Mechanics show. For now, this is the closest the listener will get to a live recording, and as with the live performances, they give us a chance to hear the softer, more intimate side of Andrew and Tim’s voices.
There is an inevitable disconnection between original recordings and live performances when a band changes its personnel – those who have spent years loving the originals can see the band live and find themselves thinking “it’s great, but it’s not the same”. Similarly, those who have been following the band in its current incarnation, or those who are new to the band, can find themselves feeling that disconnection when going home from a show to listen to the old albums. It’s great, but it’s not the same. Diehard fans of the originals may not find value in the re-recordings, but Out of the Blue is a solid addition to the Mechanics catalogue, capturing the feel of the band as they are now and going a long way in re-establishing a connection with the audience, while also satisfying a desire for new material and making us crave more.
Out of the Blue is out now on CD, vinyl and digital services. You can order your physical copy from mikeandthemechanics.com
Out of the Blue
What Would You Do
The Living Years
Beggar on a Beach of Gold
Another Cup of Coffee
All I Need is a Miracle
Over My Shoulder
Word of Mouth
Don’t Know What Came Over Me (acoustic)
The Best Is Yet to Come (acoustic)
The Living Years (acoustic)
Beggar on a Beach of Gold (acoustic)
Another Cup of Coffee (acoustic)
Over My Shoulder (acoustic)