Further to the World Of Arthur Russell compilation reviewed in these pages a couple of months back (Uncut 81, February 2004), now comes the album on which Russell worked painstakingly between 1987 and his death from AIDS in 1992. In many ways the record is the epic intimacy of 1986’s World Of Echo gone pop, but it is also a record of astounding brilliance, imagination and?despite Russell’s failing health?joy and optimism.
To a great extent, Calling Out Of Context comes across as reductionism of ’80s pop. A song like “Arm Around You” is simultaneously a breath and a galaxy away from being Phil Collins, but instead of Linn drums smacking you around the head like Thatcher’s handbag, Russell offers an amiable and genuinely joyous expression of love, and the demo-standard drum machine is set against endlessly inventive asides and figures from Russell’s electronically processed cello. And there is a reminder of how sadly Jennifer Warnes’ angelic embrace of a voice has been underused elsewhere as she duets with Russell on “That’s Us/Wild Combination.”
Rather than John Martyn, Russell’s feather-light, near-androgynous tenor voice is actually far closer to Shuggie Otis?hear how he trembles over the line “Not sure it’s OK/We’re feeling this good” on “You And Me Both”. And throughout the album one recalls the direction AR Kane could have taken following their 1989 i album; songs like “Hop On Down”?with its constant interruptions of violent electronic static?always divert into unexpected territories.
The highlight is the hypnotic “The Platform On The Ocean”, which develops the aqueous theme of World Of Echo. As Russell’s stream-of-consciousness vocals repeatedly split and multiply, the song could almost be a template for what Underworld went on to do. You should put this peerless record on your shopping list ahead of most of the rest of this month’s pabulum.