Liner Notes for Maurice Deebank's "Inner Thought Zone" Reissue

Monday, June 17, 2013

Water Orton is a rural village in the North Warwickshire district of England. Residents commute from their idyllic country homes to the nearby city of Birmingham. The current population barely exceeds 3500 residents and in 1979, when teenagers Lawrence Hayward and Maurice Deebank founded Felt, residents amounted to far less. Lawrence (who insists on dropping his surname) intended for Felt to release ten albums and ten singles in as many years. Felt heeded the concept, but the group's career can be rather neatly compartmentalized into the Deebank period and the later Martin Duffy period. Deebank left Felt in 1986, but not before releasing his solo instrumental album Inner Thought Zone on Cherry Red Records in 1984. The record went relatively unnoticed at the time, but nearly 30 years later it starkly illustrates Deebank's guitar virtuosity and expressiveness - and solidifies how essential Deebank's contribution was to Felt, despite Lawrence's absorption of the accolades.

Deebank performed on Felt's first four albums and all but the very first single, and then Duffy completed the group's tenure. Lawrence sang, but notoriously sat out for instrumentals, and crafted the group's aesthetic while refining the eccentric idiosyncrasies of his own persona, but Deebank's contributions were critical. Inner Thought Zone reminds us that the sequined guitar textures and intricately woven leads of Felt were indeed Deebank's work. Inner Thought Zone demonstrates the musical merit of Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty, The Splendour of Fear and Ignite the Seven Cannons and Set Sail for the Sun distilled. For fans who appreciate Felt's early appropriation of Television's guitar interplay and pastoral introspection suspended in shimmering melancholy, Inner Thought Zone is Felt without extraneous distractions.

Lawrence was the obsessive aesthete with an impeccable fashion sense and proclivity towards antiseptic, but Deebank was classically trained. According to lore, Lawrence carried a guitar around until he found someone who could tune it. After Deebank tuned it in a few seconds, they started a band. Lawrence's criticism of Deebank amounts to a savage indictment, though. He wrote "Ballad of a Band" for Deebank, including the not-so-clever verse "where were you / when I wanted to work / you were still in bed / you're a total jerk." Regarding Inner Thought Zone, Lawrence expressed "the titles and the sleeves were awful! Hideous! I said to Gary Ainge, 'Should we help himů? Let's just let him spoil everything.'" Despite his low-blows, Lawrence remarked another time on Deebank's importance, "I thought, God, I could really go somewhere with this kid. Ride on his back to the top, that's how I saw it."

Regardless of Lawrence's knee-jerk reaction, "Inner Thought Zone" is a perfectly apt title for Deebank's solo debut. He augments classical skill through the emotive minimalism of post-punk to express introspective beauty. Deebank's guitar mastery isn't the focus of Inner Thought Zone. It's perceptible in his deft performance, but Deebank relegates virtuosity second to feeling, and we can only speculate on the psychic baggage Deebank wished to unpack in 1984. Having rested side-man to Lawrence's germophobia, fashion micro-management and unabashed pop-star ambition for years, Deebank exorcised his dramatic career in song.

The album's center-piece, "Silver Fountain of Paradise Square," cycles through ascending melodic themes underpinned by atmospheric synthesizer. He establishes a theme of supple arpeggios (gorgeous arpeggio composition appears on "Study No. 1" as well) and whimsical bends and then solos in the negative space. Deebank builds the composition into breezy plateaus and then rings out, all momentum giving way to great loss and sadness. Light harmonic flourishes punctuate these sparse sections, but the glistening chords and synthesizer return at once. "Silver Fountain of Paradise Square" is an instrumental narrative of joy and loss. Bliss and satisfaction are fickle, especially in a pop career.

Elsewhere, "So Serene" and "The Watery Song" recall the pastoral minimalism of the Durutti Column. Reportedly, Deebank auditioned to play guitar on Morrissey's first solo album, but Vini Reilly secured the job. Album opener "The Watery Song" is especially active, and even more engaging than much of Reilly's work at the time. It condenses the assets Deebank explores throughout Inner Thought Zone. An unconventional picking pattern descends into a rich chord progression, but a spectral electric guitar solo inserts a sense of terror. Inner Thought Zone juxtaposes disparate key signatures throughout, but Deebank's aesthetic of punctuating sublime passages with bleak flourishes is especially apparent on "The Watery Song." Mid-way through, Deebank careens into a swiftly ascending minor chord progression, but abandons the mood as quickly, concluding with baroque picking.

Felt was named after a lyric from Television's "Venus," and the groups' entwined dual guitar approaches are often compared, but this likening does Deebank a disservice. Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine performed beyond the extent of their abilities, exacting spirited solos that sought transcendence, but Deebank commands grace. He undermines his own technical skill with nuanced expression, which accounts for his great success with Felt, a poignant and emotive pop group. Inner Thought Zone endures as an isolated body of work, but it can reveal to Lawrence's sycophants their unrealized passion for Deebank's work alone.

Sam Lefebvre
Oakland, 2013

taken from