Ash (“Girl From Mars,” “Shining Light,” “Burn Baby Burn“) frontman Tim Wheeler opens his debut solo album with the instrumental “Snow in Nara,” a sad guitar and drum piece that sets the scene for an album written in tribute to Wheeler’s late father. Dealing with love, loss and the sadness of seeing a loved one struggling with dementia, Lost Domain is a deeply personal statement, and at times, is far removed from Wheeler’s music released with Ash.
“End of an era” has probably the biggest chorus you will hear all year. A song about falling out of love, rich strings and 80s analogue synths drive this big, bold song.
“Hospital” has a hint of Paul McCartney / The Beatles in the arrangement. A lovely breakdown happens towards the middle of the track, with strings dragging over the piano and vocals as the song picks up pace and heads off in another direction. There are so many twists and turns in “Hospital,” it’s almost like a medley of two or three different tracks, cleverly stitched into one composition.
“Medicine” is the most ambitious track on Lost Domain and the album’s centrepiece. The song has very direct and personal lyrics that are especially moving towards the end. A nice touch was inserting a sample of Tim’s late father playing piano whilst in hospital into the recording, as father and son sit together and connect in the piano’s hanging notes. “Medicine” has some great Thin Lizzy-esque guitar (always a good thing!) to see out the albums longest track.
“Vigil” – with its “you are not alone” refrain is a turning point in the album, as Wheeler sings about his family witnessing the passing of his father. A moving video has been produced for this heart-breaking song.
“First Sign of Spring” addresses the beginning of the grieving process. “Vapour” is the album’s second instrumental, a lovely jazz piece (the drums kind of remind me of The Stranglers’ “Golden Brown”).
“Hold” is a piano and voice track – it’s good to hear a stripped back song on an album that’s full of rich, layered arrangements. Wheeler’s voice is particularly effective in this rare, sparse setting.
The title track, “Lost Domain,” was apparently written whilst Tim was appreciating Steve Winwood’s 80s radio staple, “Valerie,” and it certainly shows. Bubbling sequencers propel this upbeat, sugar-sweet pop song. A-ha’s Morten Harket would surely kill for a melody like this.
The mood becomes sombre again with album closer “Monsoon“, as Tim sings of “eyes that have lost their light.” A gently picked guitar and delicate string arrangement underpin this slow-building lament.
Some albums that touch on personal subjects can sometimes make the listener almost feel like they are intruding, but while Lost Domain is at times brutally honest; it is a life-affirming album, with moments of joy amongst the sadness; a lot like life, really.
All loss is heartbreaking, especially the loss of family. But their memories remain with us and help us pick up our lives and pass through the grieving process. This is especially poignant when you remember that Wheeler’s father was suffering from dementia, a cruel disease that erases precious memories.
Lost Domain is released on Nov 10th 2014 via Sony Red. Part of the album’s proceeds will be donated to the Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Friends programme.