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The Wonder of It All

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Album Review

Twenty years into a career littered with elegantly wrought, enormously sophisticated records sabotaged by any number of business-related setbacks, and also recovering from a period of debilitating illness, Louis Philippe could have been forgiven for chucking in the towel and scampering back to his day job as a freelance sports writer. Instead, he set about raising funds through his widely scattered fan base and produced The Wonder of It All entirely independently. Once more reduced to smaller instrumental forces, without even his beloved Covent Garden String Quartet to add their customary filigree, Philippe's wizardry as an arranger has never been more deftly deployed. Only five musicians worked on this record — including the High Llamas' Sean O'Hagan on Spanish guitar and banjo — yet rarely is the listener conscious of a restricted tonal palette. In fact even with an army of musicians to draw upon, it's doubtful whether Philippe could have achieved anything more magical than the blending of melodica and flutes on "If That Is Youth," or the vibes and piano that drive "A Wiser Fool." This is a beautifully recorded album, too, with Philippe's ever more resonant voice especially afforded the kind of space and presence that was often missing in his earliest recordings. As usual, however, it's the quality of Philippe's melodies that most beguiles. A far cry from the stunted outgrowths that pass muster for most contemporary songwriters, Philippe's songs unfurl gracefully, never opting for the familiar resolution when more enticing possibilities beckon. He is aided as ever by the richly expressive accompaniment of Danny Manners on piano and bass, and it's worth mentioning too that the title track — a poignant tale of old flames reflecting on roads not taken — marks a further collaboration between Philippe and the leading British novelist Jonathan Coe. For all Philippe's good feelings about the album, though, it was as comprehensively ignored by the critics as its predecessors.


Genre: Pop

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Louis Philippe may still be best known as a purveyor of creamy pop confections for Mike Alway's wonderfully eccentric él label, yet his work continued to deepen and develop long after él bit the dust in 1989. He once described his music as "covering the range from pure bubblegum to symphonic sweep, with detours via jazz and soul along the way. A typical album might mix influences from vintage pop, French chanson, Ravel, bossa nova, Duke Ellington, the Shirelles, or the Beach Boys, while classical...
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