Billy Thorpe – Tangier

Noble attempt at cementing guitar legend’s posthumous legacy

In the ‘60s and ‘70s Billy Thorpe made a name for himself as one of Australia’s most iconic rockers, whose performances at The Sunbury Music Festival more than forty years ago are now the stuff of legend. Thorpe, with his band The Aztecs, were renowned as being one of the loudest heaviest bands who ever played in a pub. Even to this day, many ear-drums are probably still recovering.

Initial work for Tangier began in 2000, where over the next several years Thorpe kept writing and recording, tinkering with the songs and music, much of which was still in his head. Tangier itself was designed as a concept album, and meant to be his grandest statement yet, which likely explains the length of time it took to record.

However when Thorpe passed away unexpectedly in 2007, the project remained unfinished, and the tapes were duly placed into storage. Until the decision was made to complete the album Thorpe would never live to finish.

Producer and arranger Daniel Denholm was brought in to piece together what Billy himself had almost completed. But whether the resulting album bears any resemblance to what Thorpe himself had intended we’ll never know. Because despite good intentions, Tangier sounds over-produced, and even in places self-indulgent.

Musicians from both Australia and around the world were asked to contribute, including Mick Fleetwood (with whom Billy had performed in LA band the Zoo), Egypt’s Tawadros brothers, flautist Pedro Eustache, violinist Richard Tognetti, and a host of backing singers.

You want orchestras? You got ‘em. Choirs, symphonic rock jams, yep, you get all that too. Basically, everything but the kitchen sink was thrown at this LP, hence the dilemma.

Sometimes less is more, and Tangier suffers as a consequence. Opener “Marrakesh” is indeed breathtaking in its ambition. Guitarist Ian Moss (Cold Chisel) adds some flourishes of his own to what is a rather sweeping composition. “The River Knows” and instrumental “Gypsy” are both intriguing as they are hypnotic, while Billy rocks out on the funky “Fatima,” one of a few numbers that don’t seem too overcooked thanks to excessive (and no doubt expensive) production.

“Since You’ve Been Gone” resembles the Billy of old, taking the listener back to the early ‘70s, except the song is all but ruined by a bevy of backing singers who, instead of adding gravitas, merely transform what could have been a tender and plaintive ballad into something tacky and commercial.

Thorpe tears up the Persian rug on the bluesy, atmospheric “Long Time,” followed by the orchestral grandiosity that is “In A New World,” a song which practically has Disney dripping all over it. The title track may not be Thorpe’s answer to “Kashmir,” but “Tangier” does have a sense of ‘epic’ stamped on it, albeit it in a more Tea Party than Led Zeppelin kind of way.

“We Will Be There” is country-rock with a strong Arabic flavour, until “Out Of Here” closes the album on a high note, even if the tune has been unnecessarily souped-up by a conglomerate of western strings.

Billy Thorpe was always at his best when he kept his music simple. While not exactly a virtuosic on the guitar, Thorpe still knew how to turn it up and pump it out at ear-shattering level. Like his other concept album, 1979’s Children Of The Sun, Tangier is a mixed bag of Moroccan blues-rock.

Although the songs themselves are well written, the near-overwhelmingly gaudy production values employed in order to complete it more often than not diminish the listener’s ability to enjoy what could have been one of Thorpe’s finest ever albums.