Was it really so long ago?
William Timothy Lukeman | 07/24/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ah, the Dr. Strange-in-the-background cover restored at last!
The reference is more than half serious, because that cover sums up the times & tone of this album, especially in the elegiac title track. Quite a few songs from the beginning of the 1970s had that "end of an era" flavor, a sense of summer flowers faded & a weary, wary, even bitter autumn coming on soon. And Al Stewart's albums at the time, with their awareness of history & the passing of years, really captured that feeling.
And yet, if it's specifically shaped by the end of the 1960s, it's also a timeless album. Who hasn't reached a point of looking back in reflection & bewilderment, wondering when you lost track of old friends, old dreams, old ideals? How strange that in my early 20s, childhood already seemed so distant; now, more than 35 years later, those memories seem both embarrassingly naive & frighteningly prescient.
That's the beauty & power of these songs. They not only go deeper than run-of-the-mill pop songs (although a couple here could easily have been top 40 hits), they encourage the listener to pause for reflection, to examine one's own life a little more. You immediately feel that you're hearing someone who understands your secret, inner life -- he's obviously felt & gone through a lot of the same things you have, and knows how to express them.
Whether you're discovering Al Stewart for the first time, or rediscovering him after too many years away, you can't do much better than this album. It isn't as well-known as "Year of the Cat" or "Time Passages," but I think that's to its advantage now, in that it won't seem as timebound by the hit songs we've all heard over & over again. Highly recommended!
Al Stewart's Finest "True" Folk Album
Parrish A. Highley | Somewhere I've Never Travelled | 07/31/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"While I tend to be partial to the very polished production of Stewart's next two releases, this is arguably his best "true" folk album. While Alan Parsons produced all three, it seems he kept a certain distance from the artistic vision and tone of Modern Times. As a result, there is a certain intimate bond that forms between the artist and the audience that slowly faded on Year of the Cat and began to disappear on Time Passages. Said bond only forms with repeated listening, but few albums hold up as well to repeated listening as Modern Times.
It is true that there is no tour de force like Roads To Moscow from Past, Present and Future here, but it is also only fair to acknowledge that a song of that conceptual caliber completely throws the curve for any conventional song. A good example of a more conventional song is the opening track Carol who, it would appear, is someone in great need of some sage advice. A very good song that deserved more attention than it ever received, but it's the last three songs that really make the album something special: Apple Cider Re-Constitution, The Dark And The Rolling Sea, and, especially, Modern Times. That closing title track is a poignant treatment of long, lost friends and a one-sided effort to rekindle those friendly embers while reminiscing in a tavern. Easily one of Stewart's finest songs, it is also graced with Andrew Powell's evocative orchestrations that playfully go from counter-point to harmony with the lead guitar work of Tim Renwick.
As someone who has always enjoyed the more popular songs Stewart has written, I can, with confidence, assure you this album will please even the casual fan provided he or she is not so casual as to be satisfied with a compilation of radio-friendly hits. There's nothing wrong with Stewart's compilations, but they have consistently left me wanting to take a closer look at this unique artist, this modern-day bard! Modern Times is the next logical step for anyone who feels the same."