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Lisa Gerrard – “The Black Opal” (Ltd Edition) Review

Since Lisa went completely onto her own distribution label, things appear to have changed. “The Black Opal” faced delays in distribution and other troubles too but none of that matters as the proof is now in the pudding – this album is a corker and finally shows Gerrard breaking into some new territories from what has been the safe sound she has crafted and stuck too.

“Red Horizon” is a very controlled, sweeping piece of music. Using organs and keyboards to gently roll you away, its like being lifted into a horizon of a sunset. It’s quite capitivating as Lisa’s vocals are just ambient moans and this is very much of what Lisa has been doing for a while, but just feeling a little more darker. “The Messenger” is particularly eerie. Using dischordant piano riffs and echoes against an electronic percussive harshes, Lisa mutters and stumbles over the haunting background and although it never breaks out into a frenzy (although the middle of the song does ramp up), it holds a certain shiver to it that keeps you completely held in its aura it gives off. Unsettling yet captivating.

“Tell it From The Mountain” continues the electronic element in an upbeat chant that is fantastic as its a real song again and has a start, middle and end to it. It’s like Lisa has reembraced song structure again and this really has enhanced the album no end! When it breaks out into its refrain, the strings, drums and Lisa’s ever staggering vocals really shine as a highlight and then to have it blur into guitar ambience for a coda is just thumbs up all round. It’s great to have Lisa trying new things. A real highlight.

“In Search of Lost Innocence” is very cinematic. Lisa’s low register here is like Earth’s belly rumbling from way deep down under the surface. The smashing timpani’s ontop of the brass really add to the atmosphere as the track subsides to more eerie higher pitched vocal empathies. “The Crossing” is very ambient and electronic indeed. It has a great percussive side to it and echoing Lisa’s vocals to the background while all kinds of industrial bangs and twangs take the forfront really takes this track on a different journey than most of the others – like taking a tribe into a factory. It’s also nice to hear the Yanquin again no matter how distorted and brief.

“Redemption” harks back to earlier times with a synth/vocal powerhouse track. It is slow, deliberate and utterly heartwrenching. The dualing ominous low key vocals are particularly haunting and just the little cymbal rolls in the background really round off this track as like it takes place in another world and time demension – something very few artists can do and Lisa does so effortlessly.

“The Serpent & The Dove” is very different track for Gerrard featuring real words and an acoustic guitar melody underpinning the track. It’s really quite interesting to note that Lisa can hold your attention in English just as much as in her own language. This track is quite solomn and rested, almost like someone is reading out a prologue to the last millenium. Everything despite being quite soft carries a certain weight to it that makes it feel like you’re being privvy to secrets yet to be told. “Black Forest” continues the English word with a beautifully apocalyptic waltz of love. For the first time really using almost a band or regular instruments, the piano, bass and drums sound normal and then Lisa’s voice comes in and it all sounds bizarrely alien. That sounds like a bad thing, but I assure you its not. It’s like the previous track, feeling like a higher state of being has graced us to tell us something of importance. The melody here stands out as being sleepy-dead, like Lisa’s on her last legs. The ending is more spirited but its the music doing all the work as Lisa laments “You don’t love me”

“All Along The Watertower” is a first for Lisa ever – a cover! Originally by Bob Dylan. Here is where Lisa is singing and musically pounding her way. The song sounds like something Lamb would have done in their “What Sound” era. Funky guitars, smashing drums and Lisa’s vocals as crystal clear and forceful as they’ve been all album, this is really something I’d love to hear her do more often as her voice suits it. It’s a new style for her to get her teeth into an bring to her albums hopefully.

“Solace” is very biblical sounding. Just lamenting vocals and organs. It’s an understated beauty in an album full of big pieces and that makes it’s presence felt all the more. “The Maharaja” is another track that is deliberate in its manner and the background ambience of birds and various other animals that floats in and out gives it a broken paradise feeling because the songs chords are very subdued but then you can hear chirping birds. It’s a unique paradox.

The album closes with “Sleep” which if you bought the Dead Can Dance live tour CD’s, will be known to you before as “Hymn of The Fallen”. It’s great to have a studio recording of this track. It’s an utterly beautiful track. Just piano and vocalĀ  – it’s flawless in its delivery and its an apt end to what has been a real powerhouse return to form for Lisa Gerrard.

However, if you have the Limited Edition it doesn’t stop there. There are seven more tracks to get to grips with, however the most annoying thing is that they are on a DVD so how I’ll ever get them onto my mp3 player and my music hard drive is currently beyond me! I have Bjork DVD singles with the b-sides on and I can never listen to them! Any help would be well recieved!

“The Aftermath” is an ambient piece that swirls and numbs before fading away. “The Black Opal” see’s Gerrard read a poem over gentle twinking music but the subject matter is so far removed from the background, and Lisa’s spoken word so monotone and whispery, its like listening to the opening of Lord of the Rings! A great extra.

“Desert Song” is not the Dead Can Dance song, its another etheral piece of music with added electrical pulses and beats. It does sound like a lost extra from a movie but as a bonus track everything is always welcome and it does build into a nice new age track with a good beat and Lisa’s elongated moans rippling throughout – very Silver Tree.

“The Gardener” is another spoken word track with syntherised background music that adds to the atmosphere. These spoken word tracks are a surprise as I usually don’t like them as they come off too pretentious, yet because the music, here especially, really fits perfectly, it doesn’t sound overdone at all – its like an audiobook. “Ocean Lament” reminds me of Whale Rider with its production as Lisa’s voice becomes both fore and background notes. “Solemn March” is a synth orchestra piece that leads into a traditional Gerrard song of the last 10 years and then “Impermanence” ends the bonus track selection with a very short vocal only collage. There is a beautiful and quite effecting music video for “The Serpent and the Dove” as well which initially is quite slow and beautiful but it lures you in for the final section.

Overall, the bonus tracks are nice but the right tracks are on the album. “The Black Opal” is by far Lisa’s best solo album of the last 10 years, definately on par with Duality and some tracks easily rival the best she’s created. This is a powerhouse welcome return to form. Welcome back Lisa.

3 comments

  1. “All Along The Watchtowers” is no the first Lisa Gerrard cover:
    she covered Handel on The Mirror Pool, The Wind That Shakes The Barley (very known irish ballad) on Into The Labyrinth (Dead Can Dance), and 2 late medieval era pieces on Aion (Dead Can Dance), There might be more, actually.

    I think The Black Opal is the worst Lisa Gerrard album, but not because of the new things she’s trying. On the contrary, she should push the new sounds, and not be so reserved with her voice when she’s doing pop or a ballad, and suddenly push her voice when she’s doing the things we know her from doing since years (and that she obviously feel more comfortable with). The “typical” Gerrard music on this album sound like leftovers from The Silver Tree, a much stronger album in my opinion, but perhaps The Silver Tree should remain the end of that branch, and Lisa should explore and push more toward the new sounds from The Black Opal (Sleep, Along The Watchtowers, Black Forest, etc..).

    Thanks.

    Cedric

  2. The Black Opal just showed up on emusic and it made me realize how long it’s been since I’ve really listened a lot to Lisa Gerrard. I don’t think it’s happened since The Mirror Pool, but at least I played that a lot more often than the last one or two DCD albums (and Brendan’s solo album, for that matter). I may have to give this one a shot.

    BTW, I’ve used DVD Audio Ripper to make mp3s from DVDs. Not free, as I recall, but it works. From Xilisoft, I think.

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