A series of essays wherein I explore the numerous musical identities of my favorite musician: from child prodigy to teen idol to guitar hero to singer/songwriter to award-winning in-demand film composer.
Featuring news/updates and commentary/analysis of Trevor's career and associated projects.
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Friday, July 3, 2020

Changes, disc two: Face To Face

To order the Changes boxset (now shipping):

(With eternal thanks to Dearest Friend of the blog Cee for visual assistance with the physical media.  And also many thanks to everyone who has helped spread the word of my review series, such as Yes fandom leading light Henry Potts of Bondegezou.  I truly appreciate everyone who has taken the time to read the blog and also provide engagement via links and other comments on social media.)

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I will start out this next review by stating that Face To Face is my least favorite of Trevor's solo work overall, and thus I haven't been in a particular hurry over the near-decade of this blog's existence to write about it.  But now there's a box set and so here we are.  Trevor held much the same opinion, so at least we are in agreement.

Trevor offered this explanation for Face To Face lacking focus and overall quality in his liner notes for the 2002 reissue:
Around the time of this album I produced a number of albums in London, however, I was strongarmed by some "suits" to record my album in South Africa to save money.  This was a mistake as I was really on a creative roll in London, which was broken by going back to South Africa for this project.
So by his own admission, Trevor was engaging in parallel careers much as he did in South Africa.  However - I put it to you, dear reader, that in fact what happened with Face To Face is Trevor literally overbooked himself, and there is journalistic evidence of this very thing.  But before we get into that, let's go back to the original Chrysalis press release (an excerpt of which is included in the CD booklet) to see how the process was explained at the time.

The production of Rabin's second album Face To Face differs from his debut insofar as instead of laying down a rhythm track and creating over it, this time our man first recorded the whole LP in the studio with a band, Rabin on bass and various musicians handling the other instruments.  A "live feel" having been obtained, the perfectionist Rabin then wiped the tape clean apart from his bass work and began all over again, little-by-little adding his own virtuoso interpretations.

Rather like stepping backwards to move forwards you might think, but this approach has added extra impetus and has resulted in several steaming heavy rock tracks - notably "The Wanderer."

Uh...okay.  So does this mean that Trevor actually wasted time and money by recording the entire album at a fairly costly facility with a band and then declared he was going to do it all over again himself?  Because I can imagine the answer to that would be: "Okay, you want to re-record everything?  Then let your production company pay for it this time."  And how would they do that, you ask?  Well, Blue Chip Music owned the studio, after all.

So now we can set the stage for Face To Face...

As reported in various trade publications such as the UK music industry magazine Music Week: in June of 1978, Trevor signed a non-exclusive production deal with Chrysalis Records in his capacity as Head of A&R for Blue Chip Music.  Most if not all of the production assignments Trevor obtained during the London years were under the auspices of Blue Chip, the production company formed by RPM co-founder Matt Mann and his business partner Ivor Scholosberg.
One of Rabin's first productions for the company is the House of the Rising Sun disco album by Hot R.S. which has already been a chart hit in France.  A single will be rush-released, "reflecting Chrysalis' bid to break into the disco market in a major fashion," said a spokesman.
I don't want to go into this too much because I do have another entire essay in the works regarding Trevor's foray into disco in South Africa and the like, but this deal is the basis for the Disco Rock Machine 2 release which was to come the following year.  Trevor played on The House of the Rising Sun but it was produced by Kevin Kruger, a long-time friend and fellow session musician in South Africa.  As most fans know, Kevin played drums on Beginnings (and thus Trevor Rabin) as well as Face To Face.  And I would assume that Trevor's A&R acumen helped to obtain his studio singer cohort Rene Arnell distribution for her solo debut, though it turned out to be a singular occurrence.  Call Me appears not to have had a UK release, however, only European distribution for any territories not covered by RPM.

I bring this up because many long-time fans have viewed a scan of the article which appeared in Music Maker chronicling a behind-the-scenes look at the conclusion of Trevor's months-long sessions at RPM, and the revelation that he had produced three albums simultaneously: Face To Face, Rene's album Call Me, and Disco Rock Machine 2 featuring his mainstays - vocalist Rene Arnell, RPM's house drummer Kevin Kruger, and engineer Hennie Hartmann.

So if we were to imagine Trevor's story is true, if in fact the "suits" at Chrysalis ordered him to cease his work at AIR Studios (where he had recorded with famed engineer Geoff Emerick and Dave Mattacks on percussion duties as well as other alleged individuals who will apparently remain forever unnamed) and relocate to cheaper digs, it would certainly make sense to return home to a studio he was already thoroughly familiar with.  I'm not entirely certain how relocating outside the UK would have been cheaper unless there was a tax dodge involved, maybe?  It's not like there weren't budget studios in London, after all.  However, if Trevor had multiple projects he was contractually obligated to complete for the year and two of them were going to have be recorded in South Africa anyway...and that's not even taking into account the whole "starting from scratch" scenario.  Or, if the insistence on saving money was supported by using the studio which was owned by the production company he already worked for, well, there wasn't much Trevor could do to counter that argument.

Because we have some verification of the actual situation courtesy of Jon Ossher's article, I think it's fairly easy to posit an entirely different scenario than the explanation Trevor offers in hindsight.  Of course given the caprices of Time that's likely how he actually remembers it.

Let's back up the timeline - Trevor recorded in part at AIR Studios, which was co-owned by George Martin.  There was an anecdote in the press regarding Martin making an offer to produce Face To Face but Trevor turned him down.  I asked Trevor about this claim when I interviewed him in 2012 but he could not recall it and didn't believe it was true.  I could believe it and yet also not believe it because who would turn down George Martin?  Well...Trevor might, the very picture of self-determination that he was and is.  But would George Martin offer to produce him?  Sure, anyone could see how talented Trevor was.  Now here's a wrinkle for you - Chrysalis and AIR were affiliated companies.  Chrysalis was a co-owner of the studio's Lyndhurst location (opened in 1992) and likely served in the same capacity for the Oxford Circus location (the original facility, opened in 1970), where those Face To Face sessions took place.  So how can it be perceived as too expensive when the record company co-owns the studio?

Trevor is quoted in Ossher's article as stating he was planning to complete the mix of the album in London; the preview he offered the writer and the "suits" at RPM was only four songs.  Mixing sessions, and mastering the vinyl cut, those things cost money too, but money he was apparently going to spend in London regardless.  All of these details aren't doing Trevor's excuse any favors.

Returning to my central point, I believe that perhaps - for better or worse - the reason why Face To Face displays a lack of focus and songwriting craft is because the greater part of that effort went into Call Me.  I think that the story of one album is actually two albums - but only one of them is wholly successful in terms of ambition and execution, and it's not Face To Face.

Trevor and Rene at RPM Studios

Was this an act of artistic sacrifice?  Perhaps, though I would characterize it as unwitting rather than intentional.  But there's not a bad track on Call Me, and I can't say the same for Face To Face.

The primary strength of Call Me is Rene's songwriting (on her own and in partnership with Cynthia Schumacher), proving to an international audience she is far more than a mere girl singer (as she already possessed a measure of fame in South Africa), but Trevor's playing, arrangements and production skills provide a beautiful framework for the material, a variety of moods and textures on offer.  Rene's powerful and soulful voice is entirely compelling, and there's an overall sophistication and touches of grandeur which elevate the songs above the usual pop-rock fray.  And when you compare the two versions of Rene's "Hold On" (aka "Hold On I'm Coming") - Trevor as producer/arranger versus Rene and Ernest Schroder as producers and Eric Norgate​ as arranger - I think the results speak for themselves (although Trevor might have played guitar on the original version).

There are also elements which directly link this album to Trevor's own work.  For example, "Sooner Or Later" and "Running Away" could have, should have been recorded for Face To Face as well.  Listen to those tracks and tell me you can't imagine them on that album.  Go ahead, I'll wait.  And as I've previously opined on the blog, then there's "Paying My Dues" and how the arrangement prefigures "Owner of a Lonely Heart" so thoroughly it's like Trevor plagiarized himself (not that I'm actually suggesting he did, of course).  And in that context - on somebody else's record - he could be far more adventurous than he would have been allowed to be on his own.

So I consider it rather a missed opportunity that Trevor didn't write songs with Rene, although that wasn't his style or his identity.  He was the wunderkind who did just about everything himself.  But I think it could have made for a better album if he had.  I like to imagine it was all a shared project and have combined my favorite tracks from both into what I consider to be a great "what if" release.  I actually recommend listening to both albums to appreciate the full picture of where Trevor was at from a musical perspective in 1979 - because he didn't invest his own work with everything he was capable of, just sayin.'

And Rene's harmonies are a integral part of Face To Face for certain, providing a particular emotional intensity which Trevor, for all his stacked layering wizardry, can't quite access on his own.

Some reviews of the time appear to be in favor of the more "gritty" Trevor in terms of his rock n'roll reductionism, while others criticize Trevor for continuing on as a one-man band.  But it seems everyone agrees that this album is attempting to establish a different identity for him as more of a hard rocker/guitar hero.  It was my belief that Chrysalis was trying to make Trevor into yet another pub rocker but he's just too melodically-oriented for that kind of thing.  And Trevor has acknowledged the pressure to evolve into something which didn't feel authentic to him, as he notes in a 2004 interview:
I think Face To Face suffered from some of the issues we talked about in terms of making contrived music. When I made that album I thought “I’ve got to do something like this,” rather than letting the process happen.

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Side One

"I'll Take The Weight"

I'll say that whatever faults this album can be said to have, the music is well-composed overall.  I love the way this one lopes along, with some appealing layers introduced along the way.  But only the chorus is interesting to me from a lyrical standpoint, and as with many of the choruses Trevor comes up with, it's catchy.  I like the I'll take the weight off your shoulders. I'll take the load off your life.  Trevor's vocal is attempting some kind of effect, but whatever it is, I don't know that it works.  The middle eight is also really strong, with that driving riff framing a solid solo.

"Don't You Ever Lose"

As with more than a few tracks on the album, Trevor and Rene's harmonies are so perfectly layered.  The lyrics on this one aren't so cringe-worthy, but again - what the actual fuck is up with his delivery?  It's like he's trying to sing more as a hard rocker, I suppose, but doesn't really know how.   I might attribute it partly to the change in his register, as Trevor is now singing as more of a mid-range tenor, so he sounds like he's straining at times.  But musically this fits in with the overall mission statement.  The organ on the bridge kind of derails that mood, though, just briefly.  There's a lot of keyboard elements throughout the album which I do appreciate.

"I'm Old Enough (To Make You A Woman)"

This song could reasonably be considered a "low moment" of the album (in Trevor's words) but you know what?  It's equally awful and wonderful.  There, I said it.  It's been said no pleasure is a guilty pleasure, but...yeah, I'll cop to this one.  Trevor is really better suited to pop themes as a vocalist and the yearning he infuses these...cheesy...lyrics with?  It's delicious.  And somewhat interestingly an inversion of the expected subject matter when it comes to age difference in relationships.

I often wonder if because he was compared to Queen so many times in reviews of Trevor Rabin he decided to actually sound like Queen, and in terms of his guitar tone he absolutely recreates the Red Special as if he had borrowed it from Brian May (and we know that would never happen, so it's an impressive achievement).  I'm also betting Dave Mattacks played on this song.  I have no basis for this opinion save that I've listened to a lot of Kevin Kruger's drumming and this strikes me as somewhat different.

"The Wanderer"

I have no idea what this song is actually about - Trevor's then-manager Pete Smith wrote the lyrics.  It's about a girl who's a pirate, maybe?  I've tended to imagine it that way because I do think about such things.  But without knowing the actual lyrics, well - especially these which aren't particularly clear.  Trevor's delivery doesn't sound so awkward, finally.  There's some kind of chorusing or delay effect used on his voice in the chorus that's really interesting.

But the bridge between the verses and chorus?  It rocks so hard, especially that bass!  It's really engaging as a track, musically-speaking.  It's definitely the most "hard rock" which strikes me as authentic in terms of genre expression.


This is, arguably, Trevor's worst ballad (though I also feel that way about "Would You Feel My Love" which apparently he likes?  So what I do know, right?) and the best part about it is that it's brief.  I feel like maybe he wrote the lyrics in 10 minutes after struggling to come up with something for many days prior.  I get why it's generic but that same quality is not particularly attractive in terms of the sentiment it's meant to convey.  The track itself isn't that inspiring either, to be honest.  For me, this is the lowest moment on the album.

Side Two


Speaking of borrowing guitars, Trevor has claimed he did borrow one of David Gilmour's for this track.  In my "Five from five" essay I have opined why I feel this is the best track on the album, and I've read various commentary over the years which shares that opinion so I'm gratified.  It's the track with the most ambition, and I think it delivers overall - a melding of Trevor's musicality and his production prowess.  The emotion he means to convey is absolutely realized, both musically and vocally.  The song is dramatic, but in a wholly appropriate way.  The solo is perhaps the first of Trevor's sonic experiments particularly in that vein and the various layering Trevor incorporates in the fade-out, panning between the channels, is an interesting use of textures.

"The Ripper"

I have discussed this track previously in my Halloween Special essay from 2012, the song is about the Yorkshire Ripper, and is one of the UK-specific references on the album, as Peter Sutcliffe had been terrorizing the countryside for nearly a decade (and thus, was news during the period of this album's creation and recording).  Pete Smith wrote these lyrics as well, and the tone of the words along with the music is...inappropriately playful?  As it is written in first-person narrative, so from the POV of the killer.  But that is a UK thing, a sardonic sort of memorializing and part of a tradition, as I also note in the aforementioned entry.  I do like Trevor's vocal on this track, further cementing my whole ambivalence about this song in general.  The outro solo is certainly masterful but it's a little much for my tastes.

"Candy's Bar"

This song has a particular lighthearted mood to it which I enjoy.  It strikes me as the most English song Trevor has ever written, and I don't just mean because it's about a quaint little place down in Yorkshire.  There's a bit of humor in his vocal at times and touches of whimsy, such as his use of a concertina in the second verse.  It's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of inclusion but when you do finally catch it, it's just...funny.  But in a way which makes one smile.

"Always The Last One"

Although I believe "Now" is the best track on the album, the closer is a very close second.  It's a perfect summation of Trevor's talents: a well-composed song which is expertly performed, arranged and produced, infused with the appropriate emotional heft.  It has a certain kind of grandeur to it even as it is also a hard-driving rock song, with an appropriately shredding solo in the middle eight.  From what I can surmise from the lyrics, it's about a relationship of some kind (more platonic than romantic, I would say) which has faded away due to time and distance, and the narrator is attempting, if not to revive it, then at least assure the other person they remain connected because their bond is just that deep.  I have a theory as to who it's about but I don't actually know.  The bridge before the chorus even borrows from "Now" in terms of the backing vocals included (or maybe it's the other way around).  And there's a kind of metallic "echo" at the very end which is a really fascinating detail to me.

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Weirdly, it seems like the two covers for Face To Face are expressing different concepts for Trevor's image: the UK cover an extreme close-up of that beautiful face and a guitar headstock emblazoned with his name, melding the two things in the minds of the public - but wait!  You can see seemingly reflected images inside the tuning pegs: a bass headstock, a keyboard, and a vocal microphone.  This guy does it all!  The back cover is wholly staged and maybe a little cheesy but what warms my fangirl heart is the vintage outfit (because Trevor never gets rid of anything) - those silver pants and striped tank top actual Rabbitt-era togs and kinda rock n'roll, I guess?  The choice of the Les Paul he wields goes along with the cover photo, and I suppose it's rather more Guitar Hero.  But I continue to be mystified that Trevor was never photographed for album covers or publicity photos with his Strat - which is his guitar, as integral to his image as a player as Eric Clapton's Blackie was for him.  But the UK variant truly is the best album cover of the Chrysalis releases: attractive and clever and graphically interesting.  And best experienced as an actual album cover: to hold in your hands and appreciate the immediacy of the images.  (Yes I have several copies of the vinyl, but I'm a collector, I collect things, okay?!  It's not a problem or anything.)

As I noted prior, the CD booklet contains some of the text of the original press release (which was indeed also included in the programme for Steve Hillage's 1979 UK tour on pages 14 and 15; long-time fans are aware Trevor was the opening act).  And I will say that instead of reprising the UK cover art for the album three times in the booklet, why not include a live performance shot from that tour?  They're out there, after all.  Trevor's even promoting his own album, wearing one of the t-shirts fans could purchase (Oh wait, now that would have been an actually interesting idea for new merch!).

Like this one.

Or even this one.

And no image of the alternate cover?  Why?!  However, it is a good thing the UK cover has become the prevailing image of the album because the US cover is just...what?!  Trevor as a member of the skinny tie-and-vest set does not compute, although the leather pants prefigure the true glory days to come.  There was another setup featuring Trevor wearing a black blazer and I think I like that better?  But those shots are rare to find.  I get the whole photo positive-negative thing but I'm not sure what that has to do with the notion of being "face to face" with...anything?  At least with the UK version the close-up of Trevor's face is conceptually appropriate.

Why are there two covers?  I don't know but it is interesting that Rick Derringer released an album with the same title and a very similar photo to the UK version a year later.

There is a single edit of "Don't You Ever Lose" (which was originally released on a "maxi-single" with tracks from Trevor Rabin) listed as a bonus cut on the back cover and the disc itself, however it is not actually included.  And I know I'm not the only one who has asked about this, but I honestly don't expect to receive a response, nor should anyone else who inquires.  It's just a fuck-up, I guess - oh well!  I assume it would have been a needledrop like the single edits on Trevor Rabin.  It's not that I feel particularly cheated or anything but I think when you're asking people to pay over a hundred dollars for a deluxe box set, then you should strive to ensure there aren't any issues with it.

This is my speculation of course, but since long-time fans know of the existence of at least one track which didn't make the album ("Big Money") it would have been nice to have a real bonus in the form of something truly rare - but perhaps such a thing is no longer possible.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Media Watch: new interview

A new interview with Trevor has been published on the pop culture blog Biff Bam Pop!


It's a wide-ranging interview covering various eras and subject matter, including the release of Changes.  Some interesting revelations: Trevor states that he has scored an upcoming film by Renny Harlin, but from viewing the latest information on IMDb it's difficult to know which one (of those not yet released).  There is also apparently ongoing planning for a score work boxset.  He also takes responsibility (and apologizes) for the "crowd swell" sounds on Live At The Apollo, stating there was an issue with the ambiance mic'ing for the recording.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

"acapella Disneyland" upside-down

There's so many reasons to enjoy the video for "Leave It" even as weird as it might be perceived to be (not the least of which is the incredibly rare sight of Trevor in a three-piece suit) and co-creator Kevin Godley of the world-famous Godley & Creme production team (and formerly of 10cc) gives us some insight into the process via a new post on Instagram.

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LEAVE IT-Yes It was 1983 and G&C had tried pretty much everything to disrupt the conventions of music video, but there was one tantalising target left to explore. Videos are filled with cuts, edits and numerous scenes that create a mood or tell a story, right? Right. However, what if, instead of one film featuring all of the above, there were eighteen films featuring just one? Unsurprisingly no-one knew the answer, but after pitching the notion to Trevor Horn & Paul Morley at ZTT, we were hired to find out. We shot eighteen versions in all, each incredibly simple. Version 1 for example had the band upside down and motionless throughout the whole song (the upside down thing was a recurring theme) and version 2 had them dissolving in, only to become totally solid for the final notes of the song. Were we taking the piss? Yes and no, if you’ll forgive the pun. Any company that becomes as successful as MTV in such a short time needs to keep moving the goal posts to retain their audience, and we saw it as our duty to assist. Yes were cool with the whole notion by the way, although explaining the whole concept to Chris Squire over the phone while I was having a bath was hardly an ideal scenario and I may, for the one and only time in my life, have said “trust me!” Once the experiment was out there and performing well we had one final trick up our sleeves. A version that applied as many special effects to the motionless band as possible in the one video. It was the big pay off version, to conclude a pretty radical endeavour that delivered one enduring memory. Version 3, I believe, had the band standing with their backs to camera for the whole song so, after rolling film and calling “action”, all the crew plus ourselves tiptoed off the set. When the track ended the band turned round for the customary ripple of applause...to nothing but tumbleweed.#yes#jonanderson#trevorrabin#chrissquire#alanwhite#tonykaye#leaveit#kevingodley#godleyandcreme#trevorhorn#paulmorley#ztt#musicvideoshoot#mtv
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As all 18 versions were reportedly shown on MTV back in 1984, fans were also treated to an "MTV Extra" making-of special filmed for the channel (and you can see Shelley on set at the 13:44 mark). This is the source of the urban legend (courtesy of the man himself) that Trevor suffered from polysplenia. The part Kevin refers to where the crew deserted the band during the shoot is also included.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Changes, disc one: Trevor Rabin

To order the Changes boxset (now shipping):

(With eternal thanks to Dearest Friend of the blog Cee for visual assistance with the physical media.)
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To begin my series of reviews for the Changes boxset, I'd like to state - yet again - that Beginnings is not Trevor Rabin nor is the reverse true.  Why?  Because it seems like it's been implied more than once that the two releases are interchangable, and they are not.  (I'm looking at you, Wikipedia.)  What has been reissued and included in the Changes boxset is Trevor Rabin, which Gonzo Multimedia previously held the rights to reissue back in 2002 (and further muddied the waters by releasing it as Beginnings with the original artwork/packaging, but the Trevor Rabin tracklist).  At some point that agreement expired and Trevor's early solo work was out-of-print again for several years.

I'm linking here to my essay from 2017 on Beginnings for context, but I believe at least some of the fanbase would have liked to have seen a reissue/remastering of that album and the press release for this boxset led us to believe that we would.  However, I couldn't quite bring myself to believe it, given how confusing the information imparted in that document was to begin with.

Fool me once...

Which is not to say it's not great that Trevor Rabin is back in print because I have always believed that Trevor would be doing both himself and his fans a favor in ensuring this was the case in terms of his overall discography.  And as I've commented in fandom realms of late, I think it might not be possible to reissue Beginnings in this fashion, the master reel/multitracks may be lost entirely.

Thus I am approaching this as a review of Trevor Rabin - again, its own entity - with my usual deep-dive focus, the same as I'd do for any album review, now that we've verified its identity; although I have already covered the making of the original album and then its remix and re-sequencing when released as the first album of his contract with Chrysalis.  But just to recap: Beginnings was recorded in 1977 and released on RPM in South Africa in 1978, then Trevor brought the multitracks to London which were remixed by Gary Edwards at Wessex Studios and the album was re-sequenced.  Two of the original tracks were dropped, one was reworked and retitled, and a previously-unreleased track was added.  This was then released with new packaging as Trevor Rabin by Chrysalis in the fall of 1978 with a worldwide distribution.

(always) big in Japan - cover story from 1978

The original Chrysalis press release for Trevor Rabin makes absolutely no mention of his prior career in South Africa nor the existence of Beginnings, and as hilariously strange overall as it reads to me, I can understand why.  That particular identity came with more baggage than I'm willing to bet Trevor and Shelley had when they moved to London.  And thus this alternate-reality narrative of a wandering dreamer arriving on Albion's shores is, in some ways, worthy of a rock n'roll bildungsroman.

Trevor Rabin arrived in the spring of this year, unknown and in turn knowing no-one, but with a suitcase full of tapes and a headfull (sic) of ideas of how he wanted to play rock and roll.
Those tapes, wrapped up in the shirts and jeans stuffed inside his suitcase, were the result of his own wanderlust.  A kind of musical gypsy, Rabin had spent several of his twenty-two years wandering, listening, playing guitar in bars and putting his songs down on tape.  The tapes were all his own work, his songs, obviously, but his playing too on every instrument save the drums provided by Kevin Kruger, a session playing friend.
Arriving in London, Rabin's tapes opened the doors to the record companies for him.  He talked a little, played a lot, and Chrysalis ultimately put him into Wessex Studios to put his tapes into shape.  The result is his debut album.  It says quite a lot about him.

Much like Prince, who also released his debut album in 1978, Our Trev had his age shaved off a bit in order to play up the wunderkind angle.  The notion of Trevor Rabin, who experienced a particularly privileged upbringing in the suburbs of Johannesburg, being portrayed as an itinerant musician who just happened to turn up in London is particularly humorous to me.  It's not wholly a fabrication to state that his recordings were "put into shape" via Wessex, but of course they were more than mere rough demos.  Beginnings was an actual completed album, a physical release, and Trevor's proof-of-concept to begin the next phase of his career as a solo artist in the rest of the world.

Rabin's happy with music in general but happiest with his guitar in his hands.  He studied classical music as a student but used that knowledge to work out different arrangements for the songs he played in garage bands he put together.
That wanderlust of his took him around the world in general and around Africa in particular where he taped ethnic African music - Bantu jive, he calls it, far removed from reggae and funk, and a long way from his own music, but then Bantu tribesman don't play high energy guitar.

There's a biographical veracity to the above passage, but not quite as stated.  For example, I honestly don't believe Trevor had traveled outside of Africa until his first visit to London which occurred in either 1977 or '78.  When Rabbitt was signed to Capricorn Records, Frank Fenter traveled as an √©migr√© from Macon, Georgia to his former homeland to present the contract himself.  As we know, one of the issues with the further advancement of the band's career had to do with not being allowed to tour outside of the continent due to sanctions against apartheid by the United Nations.  This also impacted Trevor's ability to promote his own albums once he did relocate to London as he was still a citizen of South Africa, as he observed in the liner notes of the 2002 reissue.

But none of this fictional embellishment is particularly surprising in that era, where publicity could be quite elastic in terms of marketing image and content to the music-listening/record-buying populace.  And Trevor wasn't completely unknown - if nothing else, what you hear on Trevor Rabin reveals its lineage indisputably.  Only someone as melodically adept and a musical polymath such as the guy who masterminded the most popular pop-rock band in South Africa could have created that particular album.

American-based reviews of the album at the time were primarily positive and encouraging (and drew a lot of comparisons with another popular polymath, Todd Rundgren), although there's one very interesting comment from a review by Mike Diana of the Hampton Daily Press.
Trevor Rabin doesn't feel like a hit album.  It does, however, sound like one of those near-misses that one hears about.  It could even get butchered in the national press, but who cares.  They're only a bunch of critics.  Rabin has potential.  
Trevor has only discussed the reaction to the album in the UK, as that was his immediate frame of reference at the time.  As most long-time fans have viewed, he went on a bit of a tirade in the interview footage which was shot during the making of the 9012Live concert film in 1984 (later included on the DVD version in 2006).  As a side note: watching the interviews again reminds me how Steven Soderbergh's editing is deftly humorous and we have an example of Peak Trevor hair to enjoy (styled to within an inch of its life for the occasion).
When I left South Africa in '78, I came to England, I lived in London for three years[...]I brought to England an album which I was so into and so determined it was gonna happen.  I got to England in a very confused period, 'cause I got there and the Punk thing had just started, which was garbage to me.  Absolute garbage, you know, the sort of Sham 69 and all that trash.  I mean, it was just such garbage and I couldn't believe people were listening to it and buying it.  Every record company just went and signed up any garbage that was around, you know.  As long as they had the right image and as long as they only knew two chords they'd sign them up and that was the whole sort of attitude.  And I went in there with an album which had, you know, some kind, a little bit of jazz-rock influence in it, very melodic and very produced and a lot of sweet harmonies and things like that.  Which I knew was gonna happen, you know, it was gonna be the biggest album.  And it kinda dribbled into insignificance in England.
Sales notwithstanding, it could be posited that reviews in the English press weren't particularly kind, although as I noted in my essay "Cover Boy" back in 2012, Sounds writer Geoff Barton was an early champion of the album and no doubt the reason why he was elected to profile Trevor for the publication's January 1979 cover story.

I have stated numerous times - both here on the blog and in fandom discussion - that Beginnings is my favorite of Trevor's early solo work, primarily because I feel it is such a singular experience in his discography.  There is progression beyond what he achieved with Rabbitt even as there is also a through-line from their music to what he created on his own.  Then a definite shift occurs again with Face To Face, as Trevor attempted to bring his music more in line with UK tastes and influences and whatever idea his handlers had of him.  So Beginnings is an outlier of sorts, and its revision into Trevor Rabin illustrates a bit of careerist restraint and an outside influence which is actually sort of a good thing overall.  Because in South Africa, Trevor was a law unto himself as a recording artist and I can't imagine any record company executive presuming to tell the Golden Goose what to do with his music.  Whereas the UK staff of Chrysalis had no such censure with this rather unknown (to them) commodity.

But I believe Beginnings, and thus Trevor Rabin, deserves to be appreciated and examined as more than simply juvenalia, but as a creative work which fully illustrates the complexity of our favorite musician through the lens of a particular time and place.  And it is the last time we get to hear Trevor singing in the high tenor register of his teens and early twenties, as his voice changed substantially by the time he recorded Face to Face.

Before I get into my track-by-track commentary, a few observations re: Beginnings versus Trevor Rabin.

- The reworking of "I Love You" into "Finding Me A Way Back Home" was a good decision in the end.  It's an engaging song and the guitar-and-violin "duet" between Trevor and his father Godfrey is really fun to listen to.  Sure, some of the lyrics are a bit naive but on the other hand I feel like it does contain an honestly heartfelt message.
- Re-sequencing the track order was also ultimately for the better.

- As I've stated before, the album artwork is not attractive.  At all.  Full-stop.  And including a poster of the back cover image in this boxset?  What?!  My mind is well and truly boggled on that particular decision.  Sure, perhaps the original artwork was a bit too whimsical for Brit sensibilities and Trevor likely had enough of being portrayed as a heartthrob (he was ultimately unsuccessful with that gambit, beauty game too strong!), but did they have to make it ugly?  At least the alternate cover was a more palatable compromise, why couldn't that one be used instead for reissues?
- Also as stated prior, "Could There Be" should have been left on the album.  I consider it the best "lost" song of the early solo era.
- The new mix subtracts some of the bravura of the original recording but I can also see why Chrysalis A&R decided that it needed a polish.  If anything Trevor Rabin sounds more professional (i.e. legitimate).  It is worth it, however, to compare the two because there are some marked differences.  Beginnings is a really good-sounding album in terms of dynamics, which verifies Trevor's talents as both an engineer and a producer.

* ~ * ~ *

Side One

"Getting To Know You Better"

This remains (for me) the best opener of all the early albums, it roars out of the speakers at you, full of excitement and swagger.  Like Trevor wants to grab you from the first minute and not let go.  It's like a Rabbitt song with added heaviness.  Those stacked harmonies are as always a nice touch.

"Finding Me A Way Back Home"

Musically I really love this song (in either version), it has an almost orchestral grandeur to it in the arrangement and performance.  It shifts very dramatically from the introduction to the verse to the bridge to the chorus.  It has a great marriage of rock and pop elements.  I love this part of the chorus: yes you're floating downstream, yes you're joining my dreams, and I wanna change the world.  It combines sentimentality and a yearning for transformation, which I find to be sort of an underlying theme of the album as a whole.

"All I Want Is Your Love"

Trevor had 18 songs recorded - 10 of which were selected for Beginnings - when he shopped for a label deal in London, so I believe it's safe to assume that this is one of the others from those same RPM sessions in Johannesburg.  I think it's fine, I like the organ, I believe it's a Vox?  It makes for a nice texture.  What I primarily enjoy about this song is the chorus, although it's really more of a refrain.  It's got yet another great stacked harmony - the whole thing sounds very Mutt Lange to me (and this is not surprising given their prior working relationship).  Very punchy overall, that rideout is pretty sweet with all those layers.

"Live A Bit"

As I've chronicled previously in my "Five from five" essay, this is my favorite track and also one of the best songs of the early solo era.  There's not much more I can add that I haven't already said regarding how great it is, but it sounds wonderfully adventurous and even poetic and philosophical and in that respect is rather unique in terms of Trevor's overall oeuvre.  There's so many layers and elements which reward repeated and close listening.  His rideout solo is gorgeously melodic, it's one of my all-time favorites and I think it was an excellent idea from an arrangement standpoint to save it for the end.  Kevin Kruger is particularly strong on this track as well.

Side Two


I've previously opined regarding what this song is about (and subsequently why Trevor released it as a single in South Africa) and from a musical standpoint it plays like a parody of the Rabbitt sound (especially those harmonies in the bridge and the chorus), which I assume was entirely intentional, given the song's sardonic target (and a way for Trevor to comment without saying a word: Yeah, that sound?  Guess who created it.).  But that shift from the rock verse to the disco bridge is playful in a way I appreciate on this album.  I continue to find the most damning line in the whole thing to be: But one thing you can't have, babe...you can't share my name.  Essentially I interpret that as: "No matter what you do, you can't be me, so you're already screwed."

"Stay With Me"

I've never been particularly enamored of this song, I actually think it's the weakest of the ballads between the two versions, but I do concede it has a great chorus.  And Trevor sounds so romantic, again, that breathy higher register which is thoroughly enchanting.  But it is nice to hear a primarily piano-driven track.

"Red Desert"

This track always makes me think of Jeff Beck, though I don't know if Trevor was deliberately aiming for that particular association.  That falsetto, though?  Magnifique!  There's a very wild infectious energy to this which is really fun, the sound of going for broke just because he could.  Trevor would never sound quite like this ever again.  This is another track where the mix differs significantly between the two albums, the remixed version sounds like there's a lot more compression utilized as overall sonic texturing.

"Painted Picture"

I consider this more of a mid-tempo song than a ballad, although lyrically it's reflective and philosophical, so definitely suited for a ballad.  Trevor's playing on this song is also quite expressive and lyrical and his singing thoroughly emotional.  I always wondered if maybe he composed this one from the point of view of being a painter himself.

"Love Life"

Speaking of alternate realities, if Trevor had decided to pursue jazz fusion instead of rock n'roll, he might have sounded a lot like this.  I feel like since he had given himself license to do whatever he wanted, he was finally going to record something which reflected that part of his creativity, and I think it's really interesting, not to mention having a truly great solo therein.  There's quite a bit of stylistic diversity on the album as a whole, and this is a perfect example as it shifts styles within the track itself - something he would reprise later in his career, most notably in many of the compositions on Jacaranda.

* ~ * ~ *

Included as bonus tracks are the single edits of "Getting To Know You Better" and "Stay With Me" - but as far as Chrysalis' choices for singles from Trevor Rabin it was "Painted Picture" not "Stay With Me" which was the A-side, so this is an interesting inclusion, I suppose?  Maybe Trevor believed the latter song was always meant to be a single, although I could see Chrysalis desiring him to adhere more to the rock n'roll wunderkind role overall.  "Stay With Me" does have that anthemic ballad vibe much like "Charlie" and "Everybody's Cheating" (as example).  "Getting" is actually an edit of the original mix from Beginnings, definitely with more of a gritty feel to it, a few different elements and less of a focus on the remix's balance between Trevor's rock fervor and his melodic sensibilities.  "Stay" is an actual needledrop (I know this because I can hear the vinyl noise and I find that marginally acceptable for a professional release) which makes me want to grouse about missed opportunities but I'll save that rant for another time.  I believe "Stay" is the song which was the least remixed between the two albums, if at all.  Back in the '70s, singles were sometimes remixed in such a way as to sound more compelling coming out of a radio speaker.  "Take Me To A Party" from Wolf was remixed for single release and that version ended up on subsequent reissues of the album.

The cases for all the CDs are labeled on the spine with "Remastered" but as this album has always sounded good to me - far better, in fact, than either Face To Face or Wolf - it's difficult to know how much has been done to it from a remastering perspective.  The credits show John Hughes handling those duties (Paul Linford performed the previous remaster when the Chrysalis albums were reissued in 2002).  Mastering technology has evolved and progressed since then, so any remastering done now is going to sound better than it did back in the Aughts.  I can opine that I do think it sounds better than previous versions I own.

All of the discs contain new(er) booklets which are of a decent quality, complete with period-appropriate images, press clippings and the like.  In each of them are Trevor's original liner notes from the 2002 reissues as well as an excerpt from Trevor's official biography for context, applicable to the period of the album's release, plus the original album credits.  All or most of the images also appear in the Images from the Trevor Rabin Archives booklet.  The liner notes state this album was released in 1977 and that is incorrect as the original copyright date on the Beginnings vinyl center label is 1978.  The advance single from Beginnings - "Fantasy" b/w "Lovelife" (sic) - was released in late 1977.  However, since the actual album included is Trevor Rabin, then the release date should reflect the Chrysalis debut, which was the fall of 1978.  And a credit for Godfrey playing on "Finding Me A Way Back Home" should have been added retroactively, as it were, since he was omitted from the original credits of Trevor Rabin.  I'm a bit disappointed that Trevor didn't think of it.

Honestly, I don't think much of the industrial-looking mesh pattern used as the background for all of the covers (with the original artwork featured in the center on the front of the booklet) but I can see why it would be all of a piece in keeping with the overall design of the box.  The aesthetic of the boxset is a tad understated for my tastes.  In the case of the best album with the worst cover, I suppose it really doesn't matter, there's not much can be done to make it any less appealing on the outside.

Monday, June 22, 2020

another unboxing

Thanks to dear friend of the blog Cee for the heads-up!

In the 21st Century, it's not a boxset unless there are numerous unboxing videos!  Here's another look at Changes courtesy of Jon Kirkman, who has a definite inside track with Gonzo Multimedia and so likely received his copy before anyone else...this is a more lengthy and detailed look at everything (and better-filmed too!).

Although I will add that he's got the providence of the promotional photos a bit mixed-up.  Of the four photos included, one is for Trevor Rabin, one is for Face To Face, one is for Big Generator, and one is for Can't Look Away.  Long-time fans and collectors (such as myself) likely have one, some, or all of these in their collections already.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Fan-made unboxing video

Here's a look at Changes for those who haven't received their order yet, or may still be pondering a purchase.  It's a bit funny to me that there's some cross-promotional love there with advertising included for Rick's merch.  He doesn't show all the discs in the set just because it appears he didn't open the box all the way but you do get to see the extras (i.e. the poster, the booklets and the promo photos).