THE LILAC TIME
'Dance Till All The Stars Come Down'
Stephen Duffy does not like birthdays.
To be more specific, he does not like his birthdays. It's not a recent thing, he's just never liked them. So, if I were you, I'd save your money on buying him that card and affixing a postage stamp.
We know this fact about Duffy's attitude towards his birthday as he tells us within the first ten seconds of 'Your Vermillion Cliffs' - the first track of The Lilac Time's new album 'Dance Till All The Stars Come Down'. There's no reason to not believe him, as a songwriter he doesn't dabble in creating characters or unreliable narrators, Stephen Duffy tends to sing about the thoughts and feelings of Stephen Duffy. His candour is one of his most alluring songwriting qualities. It's the thing is that can often stop you in your tracks.
The first thing that grabs you when you hear ‘Dance Till All The Stars Come Down' is that there are no drums, nor bass and that the guitars on the record are mostly acoustic, this is The Lilac Time's most unplugged release to date, and it suits these songs of self-expression so well. After we find out what he does prefer to birthday celebrations, there's the unadorned beauty of the single 'The Long Way'. It's a life story, a love story, a tale of living through grim political times and the wonder of finally finding your own 'tribe'. ...all in three and a half minutes.
The album's title is taken a line from WH Auden's 'Death's Echo'* and is sprinkled into the lyrics of 'The Last Day of the Last Day of Summer' the albums most open hearted, and romantic (without ever being sentimental), song. As with 'Hills of Cinnamon' on their last album, it's the longest piece on the record, a work that gently seeps into you. Also, as with 'Hills of Cinnamon' it's one of the band's most delicately striking songs, amongst those that you'll play someone who knows naught about them. It's quite beautiful.
It's sadly appropriate that a song written about the Californian wildfires should arrive as the planet starts to burn, but 'Adios and Goodnight' is that song. Duffy has always had that way of weaving wider concerns into infectious songs ('Icing on the Cake' anyone?), and although this is the most sing-along moment here, you're left wondering about how just how threatening that '...twinkling glow in the distance' may actually be. Although album closer 'The Band That Nobody Knew' is directly about the life and times of The Lilac Time and of their ups and downs, Duffy can find the universal in the particular ('What was the name of your song?...why do you think it went wrong?'). As the chime of the pedal steel guitars grows and Claire Duffy’s harmonies carry the song to its end, it provides a touching ending to the record.
Stephen Duffy has noted elsewhere that the songs on ‘Dance Till All The Stars Come Down’ may be the best that he has written. I’m inclined to agree with him, these are songs of experience, of the very long and very winding road that he has taken. There is wisdom to be shared here and, as with the triumph of their last album ('Return to Us', 2019), The Lilac Time are making some of their most heartfelt music to date.
'Dance Till All The Stars Come Down' by The Lilac Time is available here
'Death's Echo' by WH Auden is available to read here.