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(On-line Pink Floyd Magazine).

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A Floyd Fan's Introduction To Lee Saunders

By Mike McInnis.

It seems odd that an artist that has released only one album should warrant an introduction-- if you are at all interested in Lee Saunders, you have only one conceivable starting point. And on the surface it seems strange that Pink Floyd fans would have any particular interest in an artist such as Saunders, who admits that the Floyd and Roger Waters have had little (if any) influence on his work.

That said, Lee Saunders is an artist of whom any fans of late-Waters-era Pink Floyd and Waters' solo work should definitely sit up and take notice. Though Saunders' lone release, 1995's A Promise Of Peace, has thus far failed to make much impact on the music scene, it seems only a matter of time before somebody somewhere figures out what a powerful message this 39-year-old Englishman is trying to share.

Telling the story of World War II from a decidedly English point of view, the album is essentially a 77-minute long tirade against the futility of war. Like Waters, Saunders looks back at the war with eyes stained not by tears of nostalgia and national pride, but by tears of sorrow and grief. He sees a Britain (and indeed a world) still tortured today by the same hatred, prejudices, and ignorance that were supposedly eliminated by WWII. Saunders asserts that we have a responsibility to make such deaths meaningful by learning from the sacrifices of those who died, and by stamping out the hatred that they died to destroy.

Saunders' music is Floydian in a vague way. The song structures and melodies don't have that familiar feel that most of Pink Floyd's post-Dark Side music does. That's not a criticism-- sometimes I yearn for the Floyds (including Waters) to do something, anything, that is not directly reminiscent of something they've already done. (You know: "Mother" sounds like "Pigs on the Wing", "Lost for Words" sounds like "Wish You Were Here", "Your Possible Pasts" sounds like "Near the End" sounds like virtually all of The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, and so on.) But somehow the performances capture the spirit of the classic Floyd. The blistering-guitars-over-swishing-cymbals-and-layered-synths of "Overlord" remind me of "Shine On" and much of The Wall. The funky backbeat of "For A Thousand Years" sounds all the world like "What God Wants" and "The Bravery of Being Out of Range".

There are loads of keyboards throughout (Saunders is, after all, a keyboardist), but there are plenty of guitars too-- acoustic strumming and arpeggios la Roger Waters as well as killer lead parts la David Gilmour (well, not quite David Gilmour). There is a lovely sax solo in "Is This The Shape? part 1", and female backing vocalists who are capable of solo moments that would make Clare Torry and P.P. Arnold (or Rachel Fury, if that's more your speed) proud.

But in general, this isn't necessarily an album that Floyd fans will settle into comfortably on the first listen. Saunders makes more use of syncopated, hip-hop influenced beats than Waters ever would (though not as heavily as Rick Wright did in Broken China), and near the end of the album he leans heavily toward funk in a somewhat dissatisfying way. Still, like Amused to Death, this is an album that really grows on you with repeated listens-- by the time begin to become familiar with the songs, you really find yourself hooked.

Lyrically, Saunders hints at topics very similar to ones that Waters has explored in the past, but in very different ways. In a song thematically reminiscent of "Us and Them", Saunders compares soldiers to pawns, and war to a chess game played by unfeeling generals. In another, he mocks the letters sent by the generals to the mothers of the killed soldiers, telling how they died, then nonchalantly asking if the grieving mothers have any more sons to sacrifice to the army's cause. He makes subtle references to Shakespeare, and less subtle references to T.S. Eliot. Saunders doesn't quite have Waters' poetic touch, and the lyrics lose a great deal of their power when read out of the musical context. But for those willing to dig deeply into the text, there are great rewards.

In general, it is the record's production and concept that are the most Floydian. From the opening track there are samples of historical speeches, broadcasts, films, and sound effects that carry us from Hitler's early rise to power through the beginnings of the war, the British and later the American entry into the war, and several key military campaigns. These sound effects generally set the stage, much like in Dark Side of the Moon or The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, rather than driving the story as in The Wall. The sirens and the drone of the bombers used to punctuate the section on the "Battle of Britain" are particularly effective, and combined with the haunting music and lyrics make for an amazing listen as you immerse yourself in it. There are samples from war films which provide a humorous portrayal of the British mindset and show the nationalistic, patriotic nature of such films. There are numerous snippets of speeches by Churchill, as well as some by Roosevelt and other newsmakers of the day, which are used as historical references as well as to provide subject matter-- though not included in the liner, I think these words are as crucial to understanding the record as Saunders' own lyrics.

And this is a key point: A Promise Of Peace is not simply a pop album meant to be heard-- it is a concept album that demands to be understood. Referring to the heavily conceptual nature of the record, Floyd historian Glenn Povey wrote that "Saunders very nearly beats Roger Waters at his own game". As dense and complex as Amused to Death or The Wall, there are multiple levels on which to appreciate the material. He has put a lot of time into this project, and he has very strong feelings about what it means and what the audience should take away from it. And as an added enticement, he tells us that A Promise of Peace is only the first record in a series of projects he calls 'The Puzzle'. Building on the themes first explored in this record, he plans to add to them and expand them as he continues to look carefully at history, and the promises of peace and prosperity that have been made time and time again over the years-- promises he says have not yet been made good.

The next album, already in production, goes under the working title of The Space Race, and in it Saunders hopes to examine the cold war era race between the U.S. and the Soviets to be the first to put a man on the Moon. I'm sure that such a record will be similar to A Promise Of Peace in execution, rich in samples from Kennedy, Cronkite, astronauts, and cosmonauts. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the album opened with a long, spacey instrumental number growing out of Sputnik's radio signal (that being the Space Race's starter's pistol, if you will), and continuing on through the Apollo 11 Moonshot and beyond, touching upon the human elements along the way. Given mainstream culture's fascination with this subject matter (for example, the popularity of films such as The Right Stuff, Apollo 13, and the television mini-series From the Earth to the Moon, as well as the publicity surrounding the recent 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, and John Glenn's recent return to space-- an event at which Saunders was present, for research purposes), this may well be the record that puts Saunders on the map.

Much more information about Saunders, A Promise of Peace (including purchase information), and The Space Race project can be found on the web at <www.LeeSaunders.com>

Part 1 of an exclusive interview with Lee Saunders by an avid Floyd fan is available at www.ainet.com/eye/brightside.html (The interview can be found in the 'Interviews' section at this site).

Mike McInnis is a staff writer for Spare Bricks and is the list maintainer for 'Jigsaw', the Lee Saunders mailing list.

Originally published in Spare Bricks, the Pink Floyd webzine.
Winter 1999 issue. Republished by permission.

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For those visitors that have entered to this site, directly to this page, we would like to inform you that this page is part of a series of pages, within a section that acts as a backdrop to 'The Puzzle' project. 'The Puzzle' is a musical project that looks at different events from the 20th-21st Century.

This section is part of the 'World War II' zone. 'A Promise Of Peace' tells the story, in chronological order, of World War II.

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