Rea's desire to explore the artistic reflects broadly in his music (especially his lyrics), which is mostly coloured with blues overtones and esoteric, meditative themes.
This compilation focuses on the period between 1985 and 2001. Although some of the more staid tracks lean towards the Dire Straits' Alchemy side of the bar, Rea's true genius shows in his '88 to '92 pop and rock excursions .
Producing works as different from one another as "I Can Hear Your Heartbeat", "On The Beach", and "God's Great Banana Skin" (which could actually have found its way on Peter Gabriel's Us (1991), Rea managed briefly to grab attention internationally.
And no wonder. Rea's distinctive, husky voice belies a depth of delivery that's astoundingly emotional. On "Tell Me There's a Heaven", for example, the child-like melody is a stark counterpoint to Rea's deep, throaty and near-atonal whisper. Add to that a sweeping string arrangement that would make Diane Warren proud, and you've got a truly artistic finale to The Road To Hell.
There's the odd bit of whimsy, too. On "I Can Hear Your Heartbeat" and "Julia", Rea returns to that staple of songwriting - the sugary lovesong. But Chris Rea's music is mostly about the more ethereal elements of life. And it's the better for it, as it has carved a unique listening niche for itself.
There are two disappointing things worth mentioning about this retrospective: First, it omits his oft-forgotten hit "I Don't Know What it is, But I Love It"; Second, the version of "On The Beach" included is a radio edit, running about half the time of the album version.
Putting those quirks aside, not many people older that 25 will pass through this album without recognising at least two or three major (European) chart hits. In short, here's a decent retrospective for fans, and pretty good introduction for newcomers.
- Anton Marshall
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