"September" - 1:17
"The Boy With the Gun" - 5:19
"Maria" - 2:49
"Orpheus" - 4:51
"The Devil's Own" - 3:12
"When Poets Dreamed of Angels" - 4:47
"Mother and Child" - 3:15
"Let the Happiness In" - 5:37
"Waterfront" - 3:23
Secrets of the Beehive was Sylvian's second masterpiece- here he temporarily put on hold the ambient/experimental directions of Alchemy & Gone to Earth & produced an album of strong songwriting. Secrets of the Beehive is probably the album that people have been hoping Scott Walker would make since Scott IV- Sylvian had been moving towards this territory with 1986's Laughter&Forgetting (which predicts September here) & also with the Karn/Jansen/Sylvian single Buoy (also 1986)
The album features a typical array of wonderful musicians- longtime collaborator Sakamoto, alongside Steve Jansen, Danny Thompson, Mark Isham, Brian Gascoigne, Phil Palmer & Danny Cummings. The arrangements, from Gascoigne and Sakamoto, are suitably sublime- the ambient noodling of Gone to Earth is put on hold till Plight&Premonition. September is a divine opening track, just Sakamoto & Sylvian- the lyrics capturing a moment "they say that we're in love/but secretly wishing for rain/sipping coke and playing games"- but noting from the present point of happiness, autumn and thus winter are approaching "September's here again". The melancholy of a Rilkean autumn? The Boy with the Gun contrasts well with When Poets Dreamed of Angels- both having a Spanish feel reminiscent of Lorca- politics and violence feature in both to a degree ("He coughs out the victims names in the wooden butt of the gun"-"bruises inflicted in moments of fury...next time I'll break every bone in your body...row upon row of feaudal houses blow away...history lined up in the flash of their backs") When Poets veers off from a latin acoustic song into string-inflected respite, before a wonderful percussive section- one of the most complex (but no less affecting) songs here.
Maria is the closest to Sylvian's year zero, 1981's Ghosts- a minimal sound that surely must have influenced recent Radiohead songs like Pyramid Song & Sail to the Moon? This track does feel more organic than electronic and provides a perfect seagueway into Orpheus. Orpheus remains another highpoint in Sylvian's songwriting- a wonderful popsong influenced by the classical myth and Cocteau's timeless film Orphee. The music cannot be reduced easily to trite adjectives such as 'lush' and 'palatial' (but you get the idea)- this very much advances on the territory mapped out by 1984's The Ink in the Well (Danny Thompson's double bass, Mark Isham, Cocteau...) And it contains some killer lines:"Sleepers sleep as we row the boat/Just you the weather and I gave up hope"- which is the kind of thing that slays me on a par with Robert Wyatt's Sea Song or Mark Hollis'The Daily Planet. One of Sylvian's most beautiful moments...
The Devil's Own is another minimal track- the metronomic pulse perfectly suiting the Beckettian lyric "the ticking of the clock inexorably goes on"- before drifting off into a woodwind diversion that sees jazz-influences begin to appear in Sylvian's oeuvre. Mother & Child is another darker track and another star performance from Danny Thompson- a slightly sinister sounding track- which is highlighted when you hear the instrumental take on the Camphor collection (& another track which has jazz-inflected piano, I thought a little of He Loved Him Madly...)
The final two tracks take us back to that palace of the sublime- single Let the Happiness In (covered by The Hope Blister, a This Mortal Coil spin-off who also take their moniker from a lyric here) moves from a gorgeous blend of organ. trumpet & Sylvian's croon to a complex of brass, percussion and strings. A pity that its only just over five-minutes gone, as with 1999's I Surrender, you never want it to end! Closing track Waterfront remains my favourite song of this set- again just Sakamoto and Sylvian and poetic lyrics "they were pooled from a sinking ship and saved for last...watch the train steam full ahead as it takes the bend/empty carriages lose their tracks and tumble to their end/so the world shrinks drop by drop as the wine goes to your head..."- a gorgeous conclusion to proceedings...