John Hickman – Remnants
The twelve songs on John Hickman’s first full length release are strongly influenced by progressive, particularly European based, bands of the late seventies, eighties and nineties. Remnants doesn’t expend as much useless energy exploring unsuccessful textures for the sake of making a song longer, but it embraces all of the expected melodicism and expansive synth-fueled textures defining that music genre during the aforementioned eras. Hickman, however, has many more tools at his disposal. His talent for creating melodies is absolutely irrepressible and helps give each of these songs a remarkable buoyancy. His guitar work adds exclamation points on everything, finishing off his melody lines with vivid flair, and vocals that seem a little quirky at first soon prove themselves more than capable of handling a wide variety of material.
The striding, muscular march of “Cascade” kicks off the album in a memorable way. The lyrics are Hickman’s own clever twisting of recognizable clichés and tropes and, coupled with this highly energetic arrangement, the union of these two elements gives the opener an aura of something truly new. Melody is approached much differently on “Escape” – Hickman utilizes it within the context of a rock song here and the light and shade he invokes helps underscore the melodic quality. His guitar work is another of the album’s abiding virtues and he amply shows, within two songs, that his fluency on the instrument is enormous. “Hello Hello” is another face in Hickman’s gallery of characters. This exhibits his instincts for power pop at their most refined and inspired. The inspiration isn’t present in just the musical performance, but Hickman’s vocal as well. He sings with a considerable amount of hop.
“Passing Thru” recalls some gem-like ballad tucked away on the second side of a Yes album. The sonic ambitions fall away here and Hickman, instead, fixes his attentions on delivering the simplest and most direct song possible. It’s one of the album’s most unguarded moments. His skills with character examination resurface strongly on the song “Soiled Dove”. Some might claim that his subject in the song is a little bit of a cliché ripped off from movies and earlier songs, but what distinguishes his efforts from many is the wealth of specific and idiosyncratic detail he brings to the narrative. He takes a full on plunge into the eighties prog music sounds on “Talk”, but the result is highly entertaining without ever sounding too imitative. Hickman marshals all of his available musical firepower for the album’s climatic song, “Where Have You Gone?” Everything gets an airing here, guitars, drums, synthesizers and keyboards alike, even strings. Hickman explores his range to its fullest and turns in a full-throated, utterly committed performance that rates among the album’s best.
Remnants is a wide-ranging and often free-wheeling affair written and recorded by a man who sounds intensely grateful for the chance to be here. The taste must be sweet. John Hickman did things the right way – he kept the lights on and food in his cabinets while continuing to hone his craft in hopes that his moment would, one day, arrive. John Hickman’s time has come with the release of Remnants.
9 out of 10 stars.