The Erratic Career of a Torch Singer & Suburban Decadent


Simon Warner: Waiting Rooms (Rough Trade)

Some artists are prolific, whilst other have longer, Blue Nile-like periods of gestation before presenting their glorious wares to the world. One such vagabond of taking time and creating an air of anticipation and mystery in the process is the delightfully dandified Simon Warner.

In a career spanning two decades, he has produced one album, the achingly beautiful and string-soaked Waiting Rooms, and a trio of singles. He appears to be in no hurray to add to this select canon of work. The album took over a decade to make, and since its release on Rough Trade in 1997, to critical acclaim as"a handsome album of exaggerated lyrical beauty, luxuriating in big sounds and big emotions" (The Guardian), his has been an alluring absence. In the past seven years he has failed to trouble the release schedules. His deal with One Little Indian resulted in one single, but there has been only silence since. Warner released his debut single, "Perfect Day Baby," on the prestigious E.G. label in 1985. On the cover he wears an air of louche innocence, resembling a hybrid David Sylvian morphed with Kevin Ayers. It did little, but E.G. believed in it sufficiently to reissue the song later that year. Again it failed to set the world alight, and to be honest it really didn't deserve to. It sounded like poppy Scott Walker, with a pronounced drum track and '80s production values. Although the second version is more subdued, it had lost some of the dynamic of its predecessor, but once again the charts remained untroubled.

The second sleeve featured Simon in full glamorous -- and rather convincing -- drag. After this curious move he disappeared from the scene. By the time he released Waiting Rooms over a decade later, Warner had acquired a substantially substance-abusing look, with a penchant for eyeliner, cigarettes, and Julie Christie hair. His voice, a wonderful growl of outrage and despair, seemed hard to place within his skinny frame. The album is a witty trawl through friendship, domestic trysts, and washing up. Nothing is restrained. Every incident is a full-blown drama, but with an irony that stops the affair from floundering into ridicule or self-parody. It is one of the most heady pop confections one can imagine. The lyrics have a dry sense of fun, sometimes at odds with their intensely orchestrated arrangements. Rarely has pop been more bombastic and effete.

One gig in Manchester bore the listings magazine snub "pretentious, overblown tosser." The album rests somewhere between the exquisite agonies of Scott Walker, the dramatic darkness of Nick Cave, and the American grandeur of David Ackles. Despite what has been mooted over Richard Hawley, his efforts amount to little more than mere warblings when compared to Warner's impassioned bellowing. Ticket collectors, average sex, and waiting around are treated to equal billing. If you have a taste for extremes and beauty, then this album demands to be yours. Ten years after its release it has since been deleted, but he remains available as an eBay deviant diva.

Listen to "Jamboree" and shudder, hear the title track and weep. Majestic and epic, Warner's soundtrack to his dissolute existence is as theatrical as it is haunting and haunted. With another decade having passed, it might just be time for Simon Warner to throw more songs into the world. Maddening maybe, but never mundane, he is one of the true lost eccentrics of grandiose pop. Somewhere in suburbia he is hopefully toying with the anticipations of those that care.