Album of the Week, December 1: The Last Word by Gregson and Collister

LastWordRBHSJDIDBadgeClive Gregson was born in England in 1955 and began his musical career as the vocalist and principle songwriter of the New Wave band Any Trouble. They released four albums in the early 80s to solid critical acclaim but limited sales. After they broke up in 1984, Gregson began work on a solo album and began doing session work. He also joined the Richard Thompson Band, providing rhythm guitar and backing vocals on Thompson’s tours.

Christine Collister was born on the Isle of Man in 1961. Possessing an amazingly powerful voice and great sense of lyrical timing, she began a singing career. She joined the Richard Thompson Band in 1985, filling in vocal parts that Linda had sung and providing backing vocals.

Gregson and Collister formed a musical — and soon a romantic — alliance. When not working with Thompson, they performed small-scale acoustic shows featuring Gregson’s original songs and a mix of well-chosen covers. Collister’s powerful vocals meshed well with Gregson’s charming baritone and the duo began a joint career in earnest. They released a live album that showed off their early work nicely and three more discs during the 80s. By 1992, they had split as a couple and decided to go their separate ways musically. The Last Word is literally that, their final work together and a compelling testament to their enchanting collaborative sound.

Title The Last Word
Act Gregson & Collister
Label RNA Release Date March 24, 1992
Producer Clive Gregson
U.S. Chart  n/c U.K. Chart  n/c
Tracks
  1. I Know Something
  2. Here I Go Again
  3. This Broken Home
  4. Snow In Philadelphia
  5. I Could Be Happy
  6. I Shake
  7. I Don’t Want to Lose You
  8. She’s Meeting A Man
  9. Last Man Alive
  10. Close Down This Bar
  11. Could This Be the One?

It’s tempting to read the whole disc through the lens of their breakup, but lyrically the content isn’t that different from the themes they explored together and apart throughout their careers. Gregson wrote all the songs (four with regular collaborator Boo Hewerdine) and they fit nicely into his musical path. The album was recorded with minimal backing and a clear,spare sound that fits the songs well.

I Know Something opens the disc with an aching testament from Collister. It’s one of her finest vocals (no mean feat) and sets up the album’s confessional tone perfectly. Here I Go Again, a stirring duet, tells of a relationship spinning out of control. The tempo is upbeat, propelling the words as the singers number their misdeeds. Two story songs follow, the aching This Broken Home and the far-from-loved-ones Snow In Philadelphia. Both are solid Gregson and Collister tracks.

Collister turns in another stellar performance with the album’s standout, I Could Be Happy. It’s a tragic reckoning of a relationship at an end. Her vocal work moves from a whisper to a cry and the production supports it perfectly. The pace picks up with Gregson’s I Shake, a rocking look at dealing with emotional fallout. I Don’t Want to Lose You is a beautifully ironic song, as Collister sings of how she is mistreated and how much she wants to make the relationship work. It’s delightfully crafted folk pop.

She’s Meeting A Man is another story song. Showing off the pair’s collaboration, it features great duet vocals and a fast-paced melody. Striving for optimism, it’s a lovely, sad story of a lonely woman hoping for a chance for love. In Last Man Alive, Collister recognizes that the man she might still admire is no longer a part of her life. It’s a brilliantly crafted song sung with subtle passion. Gregson takes over the vocals for the desperate Close Down This Bar, a nearly maudlin song whose delivery saves it. The disc wraps up with the touching Could This Be the One? It’s as optimistic as the pair get, with a warning that love always has risks but is worth the effort. It’s the most lush production on the album and ends with a wonderfully sustained note from Collister. Gregson and Collister made sure their last word was their finest.

FURTHER LISTENING: Together, apart, and in other groups, the pair have released a score of albums, all of which have something fine to offer. All five of their albums together are worthwhile, with the energetic and spare Mischief and delightful covers album Love Is A Strange Hotel standing out. Gregson’s first solo outing, Strange Persuasions, is his strongest set; of his later work, 1999’s Happy Hour is the most consistent but all have solid songs. Collister’s solo work is a bit less consistent as her producers have a tendency to over-dramatize her amazing voice. Songbird is a great sampler and The Dark Gift of Time is the absolute standout. Gregson’s work with Any Trouble should have been a major New Wave success; their first album, Where Are All the Nice Girls is the best single album and the compilation Girls Are Always Right is a spectacular overview.

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About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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