Staring at the Sun by Level 42

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Staring at the Sun by Level 42
Staring at the Sun by Level 42

Album Released: 1988

Staring at the Sun ::: Artwork

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1.Heaven In My Hands4:39
2.I Don't Know Why4:22
3.Take A Look4:41
4.Over There3:59
7.Staring At The Sun4:39
8.Two Hearts Collide4:10
10.Gresham Blues5:45


Based on the three albums I'm acquainted with, I've never really got a handle on the music of Level 42, it's always seemed something of an acquired taste, being Jazz/Rock with rock rhythms, vocal harmonies, plus some funk elements, with lead vocals that incidentally always make me think of Ali Campbell, the lead singer of UB40.

But Level 42 are not really Jazz/Rock in the usual accepted meaning of the term, largely due to their tendency to drench their compositions with synthesizer washes, and the synthesizer is not really a Jazz instrument. But a consequence of synths permeating the background of every Level 42 track is that there's no 'space' in the production, all the holes are plugged, and then overlaying all those synths are funky rhythms, rock percussion, and vocal harmonies, all presented with complicated jazz-style arrangements.

Oddly, the nearest comparison might be the idiosyncratic music of 1970's jazz-rockers Gentle Giant, but then Level 42 are poppier than Gentle Giant, and as already mentioned, they like to bolster their jazzy compositions with lashings of synths.

The peculiar instrumentation and quirky structure of Level 42 songs can make it difficult to get a grasp on their music. In the case of this album, the compositions all seem quite competent, but the only 'accessible' track is the 4 star "Tracie", which at least has a memorable melody line in the chorus (if it can be called a chorus at all).

But the rest of the material is as fiddly to listen to as it would be to play, and there's so much going on that individual tracks lack any focal point. The last track, the instrumental 2½ star "Gresham Blues", is where Level 42 irrefutably reveal their roots in conventional Jazz/Rock, sounding just like jazz-rockers Isotope from the 1970's. All in all though, it seems this is the sort of thing you either 'get', or you don't, and I appear to fall into the latter camp.

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by Reviewer: bluemoon

This was Level 42's first album without the Gould brothers, them having been replaced by guitarist Alan Murphy and drummer Gary Husband (although Boon Gould does contribute some of the lyrics).

Staring at the Sun is another catchy, enjoyable release from the band, who continue to charm with their funky pop style, as well as their inoffensive and likable image, which has them managing to avoid coming across as too lightweight or inconsequential.

"Heaven In My Hands", "Over There", and "Silence" are fine efforts, although the title track, as well as the concluding 7-minute "Man", come off less well. They're not really bad songs, but there's something lacking from them, particularly the latter, that most of the other selections contain.

Going by the artwork, there also seems to be some kind of Japanese theme running through the album, but it's not clear (to me at least) what the point of it is. The lyrics include war references in "Over There", and loneliness in "Silence", while "Tracie" is an ode to Mark King's childhood girlfriend. Maybe the "Sun" in the title has something to do with the Land Of The Rising Sun?

Anyway, Staring at the Sun is a worthy release overall, even if it wasn't well received by critics, nor was it as successful as the band's most recent efforts. And while the band continued into the 90s, their fame, like with so many other 80s bands, would fade all the more.

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by Reviewer: The Doctor