For Corsage fans, this latest album is a must-have; for those of you new to the monumental Vancouver band, I envy the discovery you are about to make. A collaboration between Phil Smith, Bill Napier-Hemy, and their talented friends, Corsage has been an ongoing project since 1981.
With Smith on vocals and Napier-Hemy on guitar/theremin, they’re joined by Ron Allan on bass and John Cody on percussion (replacing earlier Corsage drummer Chris Taylor). All are well-loved and nigh revered talents in Vancouver’s alternative scene, comprised of members from The Pointed Sticks, Subhumans, and The Wasted Lives, to name a few.
Anything that Smith and his friends do is intriguing, entertaining, and bound to be lots of fun. Among my favourite Corsage songs are three from 1983’s The Phil Smith Album: “Grecian Formula,” “The Shame I Feel,” and “I’m a Lion.” Onstage, Smith is theatrical and larger-than-life; his words drip with portent. He’s Vancouver’s philosopher king, with a majestic voice able to proclaim universal truths. With the help of his bandmates, he can elevate music to the realm of art.
This latest album is a song cycle that tells the story of an heroic journey, from pain, bitterness, and grief to transcendence. At the opening notes of the first cut, “From Earth to Heaven with a Smile” Corsage and producer Ron Obvious create a sound that is both beautiful and sad to the point of pathos. The work is all of a whole, but if I must pick a favourite song, it is the cri de coeur/dance anthem “As I Must Leave You.” This track totally kills, and the guitars at the end will blow you out of the room.
The songs are much enhanced by the lovely violin-playing of Meredith Bates and Belinda Bruce’s just-right vocals (reminiscent of Volumizer’s Shannon Oksanen). Talent-to-watch Gina Hemy-Bain and the Hipposonic Chorus add further percussive and vocal embellishment. In this new work, Corsage have created something that is beautiful, uplifting, and profound.
There is a saying by Albert Camus: “In the midst of Winter, I discovered within myself an invincible Spring.” This record is the aural equivalent. Isn’t that something we are all looking for at this chilly time of year?