In 1997 a band called Geneva briefly excited with their debut album Further, but none of their singles were quite able to push past the lower reaches of the Top 40. There wasn't a lot of mileage left in the Britpop tank by this point, and British guitar bands who'd been given that label (and they were pretty much all given that label, because it was easy to do so and fitted the journalistic narrative of the day) often found success fleeting and mercurial.
Always be ruled by dreams
Reviews of Geneva always honed in on the band's defining characteristic: the beautiful voice of lead singer Andrew Montgomery. It was sometimes said that the music, mostly solid and workmanlike, was acting as too much of a brake on Montgomery's voice, which, given the opportunity, could rise above the confines of the Britpop template. Among their best moments was a track called "Worry Beads": never a candidate for single release, but a song on which Montgomery's voice was allowed to rise and fall, chasing melodies not normally found in the company of everyday indie rock. It could have been a hint of what might result in a different time and with the right collaborators.
Fourteen years after Geneva's second and final album Weather Underground, and ten years after it last appeared on any release, that voice has returned to thrill us again: with Richard Oakes (Suede) on guitar, and vocals from Röyksopp & Schiller collaborator Kate Havnevik, Ruled by Dreams also includes contributions from Ben Ellis of Catherine Wheel and Jody Gadsden & Simon Neilson of Autoheart. The album was produced by Sean McGhee, who is also one half of Artmagic with Oakes.
On Ruled by Dreams Montgomery's voice is the star of ten tracks that range from the sombre opening track "After The Storm" through tracks like "Sorry Someday" and "Memento", which hark back a little to the Geneva days, through to the sunny Spanish-infused rhythm of "La Graciosa".
It's appropriate, perhaps, given the (irresistible, it seems) temptation to invoke the imagery of choirs and angels when talking about Montgomery's voice, that the album should start with a track that evokes biblical disaster: "submerged by the deluge, you clung on for refuge" he sings, over a funeral-march beat, the brass, the gospel, the beautiful harmonies and the sound of ocean waves calmly lapping providing sweet salvation, salvation that is picked up by "I Sing The Body Electric". The song's piano trails and hushed backing vocals in turn capturing the warmth of love's embrace.
If the ghost of his old band pays the occasional brief visit, as on "Sorry Someday" and especially "Memento", on both these tracks the added electronic flourishes and backing vocals help take Montgomery to places that Geneva sometimes struggled to reach. At the same time it's hard not to think of what might have been during the opening lines of "Memento", which hark back to "Into The Blue" from Geneva's debut album Further.
For the most part, the rest of Ruled By Dreams is a collection of sweeping and ambitious ballads and mid-tempo songs where the only ghosts are the dreams that appear in the lyrics.
From the beautiful, orchestral, waltzing "Zhivago":
Tell me oh how can I walk away,
leave my hopes to decay
as if I'd lived my life without a dream
And as the title track itself advises amid soft guitar slides: "always be ruled by dreams".
On "Making Up For Lost Time", which features some extraordinary falsetto from Montgomery, water (and tears) once again symbolically washes away. Then:
When we kiss we lose all our emptiness.
When we kiss we chase away loneliness.
When we kiss we steal into ecstasy.
When we kiss we run from our misery,
into bliss away from darkness.
When we kiss there's only this.
If it seemed a curious choice to start a solo career with such death and sadness, by the end, Ruled By Dreams becomes in effect a life of church ritual in reverse, with final track "Baptismal" providing an optimistic finish. "Don't know what you're doing, but I know that you're the one." This time the harmonies are accompanied by handclaps and hope, and after it fades, Ruled by Dreams is fixed in your mind as the start of something new and very beautiful.
I'm not in command
I'm ruled by dreams,
ruled by dreams
Don't waste your time
you'd only find
me ruled by dreams,
ruled by dreams
Ruled By Dreams is available now in digital and CD formats, from Bandcamp. Check out the link below to purchase.