Where does one begin to explain the storied life of Lane Steinberg? This chameleon among men is a songwriter/multi-instrumentalist as one half of the refined & twisted (semi)popular music duo, Tan Sleeve, a celebrated poet & wine critic (The Red Wine Haiku Review), a surrealist raconteur & TV producer (Mustafio, How Sign Is High?), all sandwiched inside a life rich with family obligations and a professional career as a consultant on public debt restructuring for a an international conglomerate. Does this man sleep?
“Actually I don’t, really”, says Steinberg. “Somewhere in my late twenties, I realized I only needed two or three hours of sleep to function optimally. Anything more dulls my blade”. After back-to-back Tan Sleeve albums in 2004&5, Lane decided to revisit a solo project that had been on the back burner for years, a follow up to 1995’s “Peyote Marching Songs, Vol.1”, which was released under the moniker “Noel Coward’s Ghost”.
“The first Noel Coward’s Ghost record was a complete break from formal pop structures”, explains Steinberg, “I tried to do something completely unique, and I succeeded on some level. Most importantly, I amused myself!” The critics stumbled over each other to find unique metaphors to describe the music. Lane: “My favorite was Frank Zappa & the Zombies making a Left Banke album”.
This new CD is no less ambitious in its scope, though broader in the ground it covers, ranging from the reassuringly sublime to the bracingly surreal. The opening track, “Bottlenose Dolphin (thanks for the milk)” is an acknowledgment of inspiration. The track has, according to Lane, “came from my daughter playing with her toys. She was feeding a toy dolphin with a milk bottle and said what became the title of the song as I was watching her unawares."
The following two tracks, “Face Down” & “Away” feature an invention for guitar Steinberg has created called the Renulin. “It’s not a signal processor, but a physical attachment. That’s all I can say right now, as the patent is still being drawn up.”
“Gain Luster” is a dual homage to two of Lane’s heroes, J.S. Bach & Brian Wilson. Things then take a sharp turn for the weird with “Jerichaio”, which is, along with “One Man Crime Wave”, one of the more recent pieces on the disc. “I’m very much into the re-juxtaposition of sounds these days.” Steinberg says. “If my wife passes by & asks me why I’m laughing, I know I’m onto something good”. “YamYam” is a squiggle of craziness, that, along with the bizarre “Cutlets (don’t burn it)”, and the two short pieces that bookend the album, stem from his TV work.
But, of course, there are soaring melodies aplenty, and Lane keeps their accompanying lyrical ideas fresh. “Let’s Touch” is a thumping whirlwind about two co-workers having an affair on the sly and calling in sick to take a road trip. “Something Is Waiting For Someone” is an unsettling number about fleeing under cover of darkness – where to and from is left enigmatically unclear. The Beatle-esque “The First To Learn (the last to know)” traffics in similar lyrical ambiguity. But the album doesn’t forget to rock up the proceedings a bit with the dark, Stones-y “Bare Walls” and the funked-out & funny “You’ll Never Find A Way To Get Me To Work”.
The oldest piece on the disc is perhaps its most ambitious, the modular “Beautiful Day, Take Me Away”. “I’ve chipped away at it for many years”, says Lane. “Something always prevented me from actually finishing it”. Oddly, the initial few bars were inspired from a song by cult phenomenon R. Stevie Moore, long before the two had ever met. Intriguingly, they are now collaborating on a long-term project via email.
The closing track, “Concrete Vacation”, was to be the title track from an earlier, aborted second Noel Coward’s Ghost album. “The label I was working with went bust and all the funding for the project was pulled. I revived this track, though. It’s sort of the darker underbelly to the Lovin’ Spoonful’s ‘Summer In The City’.” And thus ends this ‘Around The World In 60 Minutes’ extravaganza by Lane Steinberg, “The Return Of Noel Coward’s Ghost”. Impossible to accurately describe, but undeniably indispensable to those who are lucky to have heard it. The world needs its type of beguiling haunting now more than ever!