Review: Devin Townsend – Lightwork
InsideOut Music (October 28th, 2022)
Reviewer: Chris O’Connor
The word genius is bandied about far too freely, but no-one can deny that the Canadian multi-instrumentalist/vocalist is just that! Devin also is very much a man who marches to the beat of his own drum and has always had a totally ‘anything goes’ mentality when it comes to his own music. He also has an extremely short attention span, and as an example, no sooner might he create a monstrous Progressive Metal magnum opus, than he may decide to record a blues/ country album next, so you really never do know quite what to expect from the man.
If you’ve been watching or reading recent interviews, Devin has repeatedly stated that he has wanted to do something much more ‘song focussed’ than his most recent output, and true to his word, in ‘Lightwork’, he has done exactly that. If then, you are expecting Progressive Metal experimentation, this may not be for you. Utilising the services of his fellow Canadian Garth Richardson, and looking through many of the compositions he had written during lockdown, he has completed what is a very ‘different’ album this time around.
If you need some kind of indication as to what to expect, think of his ‘Ghost’ album, as perhaps this would be its logical successor in some respects, though sometimes being ‘louder’, almost, but not quite a la ‘Addicted’ in places, without being heavy (as such). ‘Lightwork’ is the sound of Devin in Melodic Pop Rock ‘mode’, a place of luscious textures and lighter musical touches, it is still Progressive in places, so not totally unfamiliar, but you just won’t be banging your head to it all the time either.
As ever on his albums, Devin surrounds himself with stellar talent, this time it includes some very familiar faces – Anneke Van Giersbergen and Ché Aimee Dorval (vocals), with Steve Vai and Mike Keneally (guitars), Diego Tejeida (keyboards), Nathan Navarro and Jonas Hellborg (bass guitars), Morgan Agren (vocals, drums, and percussion), Darby Todd and Federico Paulovich (drums), and finally, we have the Elektra Women’s Choir – so genuinely quite some ensemble.
Devin (of course) aside from singing and writing, plays both guitars and bass, synth and computers, and is then responsible for mixing and co-producing the album – and also arranges the orchestration. Is there nothing he cannot do? His unique semi-operatic tenor voice is in magnificent form – would you really expect anything less though? His voice goes from a lilting gentle croon through to his more passionate roar in places …it’s never going to be dull in the world of Hevy Devy is it?
The album opens with ‘Moonpeople’, a gentle and almost dreamy number – it was (from memory) the lead-off single for the album and is (by his normal standards) almost subdued, but with a lovely chorus that soars gloriously, an inspired choice for the first song then. ‘Lightworker’ follows, it’s a more bombastic number, again with a huge chorus. It has a wonderful orchestration that makes it symphonically grandiose – fabulous stuff!
‘Equinox’ is next, and definitely falls into the Dream Pop category, it has a beautiful delicacy/ fragility, a lightness of touch not only musically but lyrically too. It’s never ‘sappy’ though, Devin still cuts loose with that ‘howl’ in the chorus, which lifts it above the mundane – it’s a song that shows how Devin combines beauty and fierceness in equal fascinating measure. Following this is ‘Call Of The Void’ which has an almost hypnotic insistence to it and works beautifully.
‘Heartbreaker’ is more ‘classic’ Devin, it is a more complex feel and style to it and might easily have come off the ‘Empath’ or even ‘Ocean Machine’ albums – it is more quirky and off kilter. ‘Dimensions’ is definitely more Electro-Pop, with Devin using his voice more aggressively over the driving beat. As the song develops, Mike Keneally cuts loose with a truly unhinged guitar solo, it’s actual quite jarring!
‘Celestial Signals’ is a heavier track, you can feel the tension building throughout the song, a heavier guitar counterpoints the luscious keyboards – and it works to perfection. In comparison, ‘Heavy Burdon’ is a quirkier track, being partly Electro-Pop, but somehow fused with Dream Pop, which really shouldn’t work, but somehow just does anyway – the Elektra Women’s Choir are utilised to perfection here, it’s perhaps the most ‘unusual’ song found here.
‘Vacation’ is pure Melodic Pop, quite retro in feel, almost a summer /seaside song, this is Devin at his most relaxed and laid back – and it’s a lovely song, gentle and lilting. This leads into the epic ‘Children Of God’, which has everything including the kitchen sink – thrown in – if you get my drift. It starts off gently enough, but you can literally feel the song building like a giant wave before the swell ‘breaks’, and serene calm is restored as the track drifts to its end. Just wonderful.
Now – if you get any of the deluxe versions of the album, you also get the accompanying ‘Nightwork’ album, which is like the fractured mirror image of the other album – a musical sort of ‘what if?’ – but that would call for another review entirely! So, ‘Lightwork’, written and constructed during the world-shaking pandemic – is the sound of ‘normalcy’ and calm returning – a sense of security and gentle familiarity, and of better things ahead.
Only Devin could make such an album, something serene and ‘friendly’ yet also uniquely ‘him’ without ever remotely falling into hackneyed cliches. Where he goes from here? I’m not even sure he knows, but I’m just content to be along for the ride. It’s not about the destination … it’s all about the journey … and whatever is over that next horizon. You need this – so you know what you have to do! Utterly essential.