From the outset, Philip Selway knew ‘Strange Dance’ had to put him in a different sphere. Lauded as one of modern rock’s most significant drummers due to his three-decade role in Radiohead, he wanted to put the sticks away, and embrace songwriting at its most subtle, and minimalist. On this new solo record he certainly achieves that, a bewitching song cycle that thrives on atmosphere and sonic minutae.
Opener ‘Little Things’ is anchored in those neat piano notes, so spartan and so suggestive. The breathless vocal feels frozen in space, the swooping strings supplying something feather-soft yet hugely atmospheric. ‘What Keeps You Awake At Night’ retains the opener’s glacial pace, the icy arrangement locating fresh paranoia within Philip Selway’s lyricism.
A record of confidence and assurance, ‘Strange Dance’ moves into a bold mid-section by introducing fresh elements. There’s the grinding neo-industrial tones on ‘Check For Signs Of Life’ for example, or the off kilter rush that dominates ‘Picking Up The Pieces’.
At times, you can hear aspects of the day job creeping through. The strings certainly share similar DNA to the arrangements on ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, while the stabbing guitars nod to Jonny Greenwood. There’s a lot of other elements in this recipe, however – the faintly psychedelic guitars on ‘Make It Go Away’, the Eno-esque electronics on ‘Salt Air’, or the Tom Waits shadows that linger on the title track.
Almost in spite of its often maudlin pace and imposing lyrics, ‘Strange Dance’ is an enjoyable experience. The songwriting is strong, representing Selway’s best – and must sustained – burst of solo work yet. His innate musicality shines through, and there’s an endearing honesty to the lyrics that filters across the music itself. His first solo record in almost a decade, ‘Strange Dance’ won’t encourage you to cut a rug, but in its own way it leaves a profound impact.
Words: Robin Murray