Strange Dance by Philip SelwayRelease date: February 24, 2023
Label: Bella Union
It is May 17, 2008. A warm and beautiful evening at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. I’m at the venue waiting to see Radiohead performing to a pack show with a massive crowd after the opening Australian-American act Liars finished off their set, waiting for the main event to begin. During this time frame, they were on the road promoting their seventh studio release, In Rainbows.
It was originally self-released as a pay-what-you-want form, followed by a physical release on the XL label. It allowed fans to buy the album at their own price. Some liked the idea, some didn’t. But it was one of their finest releases after their sixth album, Hail to the Thief. They stole the show at the Woodlands. If you think they were playing their classic ‘Paranoid Android’ and ‘Creep’, think again.
They gave audiences a night they’ll never forget. And now here I am nearly 15 years later, reflecting those memories and remembering that night whilst listening to Philip Selway’s upcoming album Strange Dance. And for Selway, he has delivered a surreal, startling, ideal, and staggering release that will send shivers down your spine.
Selway has proven to himself that he’s more than just the drummer for Radiohead. He wants to come out of his comfort zone and stepped into the mic and reveal his passing to sing. And he can sing pretty well.
Following up to Weatherhouse, Strange Dance is like looking through an abstract painting, come to life from the works of Pollock, Rothko, and Mondrian. Geddes’ artwork says it all.
The music tells its story beginning to end. And allowing other artists like Hannah Peel, Quinta, Portishead’s Adrian Utley, Marta Salogni, Valentina Magaletti, and Laura Moody, they weren’t just there to be on this album, they were there because they are lending Phil a helping hand by bringing Strange Dance to life.
The moment that ‘There’ll Be Better Days’ starts off, Selway delivers a sermon inside a church that is in mourning as the sunrise begins to come over the heavy, dark, grey clouds by starting a brand new day. With Hammond organs bursting through the ray of light, we witness that first glimpse of the sun.
You get a sense of the spirit of their loved ones watching over them as if they become guardian angels to make sure nothing bad happens to them. ‘Salt Air’ sees Magaletti using her brushes on the snare drum to create this train chugging effect as Phil guides her listeners into a quiet meditation form of Zen in a humming vibration that Quinta creates on her synth.
‘The Heart of it All’ is a romance gone horribly wrong. He details over troubled relationships and how there’s no chance in hell to put the broken pieces together.
There’s a form of loss, abuse, and regrets that he details in the song as Hannah’s arrangements bring a little form of a small fix to the relationship as the instruments burst through the floodgates to give these strength of wisdom in the final section of the song.
As the title-track sounds like a click-clacking effect in the forms of Ligeti and the Zeit-era of Tangerine Dream, you can just feel a pin drop in the Stalker universe from Tarkovsky while the acoustic branches to ‘Make It Go Away’ make Selway ride in one of those train cargos, witnessing a beautiful horizon coming across the symphonic landscape.
Both ‘Little Things’ and ‘The Other Side’ are very much reprises to ‘There’ll Be Better Days.’ It’s the post-sermon for Selway. He describes his fellow listeners over the aftermath of the incident that’s occurred. I can imagine in the song of ‘The Other Side’ he has brought in these two people in from the cold and gave them food and water and shelter for the night.
Then, he goes into this combination between Ra Ra Riot and Arcade Fire’s Funeral-era, rolled into one, and make it a joyful celebration by ‘Picking Up Pieces’ before setting up this strange lullaby that is transformed into this terrifying nightmare, coming to life, and crawling underneath you bed on ‘What Keeps You Awake At Night’.
‘Check For Signs of Life’ is a heart-beating action packed mini epic that has a Ennio Morricone vibe that Selway channels in a Spaghetti Western twist. You feel the loneliness, you feel the breeze, and never knowing if the Man with No Name will ever return.
It’s a bitter-sweet tragedy that is crying out to the gods by pouring out their souls until the very end. Selway’s Strange Dance is an expression of melancholy and his view of an album that is done right with a strong sense of wisdom.
He has proven himself that he can finally reach the mountain top without anyone trying to stop him. And here, we got to witness Philip reaching his goals and seeing the sunlight in all of its glory.