* * * * out of * * * * *
review by Bernard Zuel - Sydney Morning Herald, 17 October 1997
This compilation of a decade-plus of songs serves to confirm my suspicion that, in the end, Stephen Cummings has to be seen as a soul singer. Sure, he isn't doing the soul shouter Wilson Pickett-style, he doesn't have the honey voice of Otis Redding and he doesn't do the bedroom stuff of Luther Vandross. And yes, a song such as She Set Fire To The House has a decided twang, while Taken By Surprise is darkly, almost electronically atmospheric. But his songs are moments of passion, of anger, of collapsing optimism, of the inconsequential and the profound. And of times when even the smallest shift in the world makes all those moments collide. At his melancholic, evocative best - on albums such as This Wonderful Life and A New Kind of Blue - it was a small time/small pieces world of cafe corner tables, men slow to commit and women slow to forget. Those songs (You Jane and its sequels are the best examples) were usually forged on Shane O'Mara's acoustic guitar and an atmosphere of dim lights. Later on, on his stand-out albums produced by Steve Kilbey (Falling Swinger and Escapist), there was an unsettling edge to Cummings's creations. The room had a flickering light, the anger was a little closer to the surface, the music less organic. But they still stung. These are soul songs of Melbourne, of Lovetown, of the literate and the tongue-tied. Of all of us, really.
review by Peter Jordan - The Sydney Morning Herald CitySearch, December 1997
If the world were a fair place and artists were rewarded in accordance with their abilities Stephen Cummings would be a rich and famous man. But, alas, this is not the case. Indeed, there is often an inverse relationship between talent and success, which partly explains why the Melbourne singer is more cult figure than household name.
Despite relative anonymity and an absence from the charts (1984's "Gymnasium" is the sole exception), Cummings has produced an outstanding body of work that, in its maturity, style and consistency, is unique in Australian popular music.
This "Best Of" compilation covers more than a decade of solo work, but also includes three new songs. The material ranges from the aching and fragile beauty of "I Fell From a Great Height" (a song loved by Toni Childs, for what that's worth) to the almost psychedelic reverie of "Sometimes" and the country-tinged "When Love Comes Back to Haunt You".
A late-night, melancholia pervades many of the tunes; a quiet desperation reminiscent of painter Edward Hopper's depictions of people on the fringe of urban life. Not that Cummings' songs are depressing, it's more that his mapping of the human heart is so honest; the small details of relationships are perceptively, if brutally, observed.
Cummings is currently working on a new album, Four Hours Sleep, although no release date has yet been announced. Meanwhile, if you're not already a fan, this collection is an excellent way to get acquainted.
* * * 1/2 out of * * * * *
review by Lauren Zoric - Australian Rolling Stone magazine, issue 544, January 1998
Best of's are good and bad. Separating particular, well known or memorable songs from the body of work they were borne from and bundling them up with other such songs almost gives them a different life. Less rich, out of context? But maybe moments as powerful as "Fell From A Great Height" stand on their own no matter where they are. This compilation is touched by the hand of Steve Kilbey, so the ethereal elements are strong. Possibly not Cummings' best work. But the maturity and breadth of his storytelling palate, the richness of the instrumentation and discerning touch of class are in ample evidence otherwise. Debonair, romantic and sensitive, Cummings owns a voice that allows vulnerable yearning qualities as much space as an authoritative voice of experience. Cummings is a talent who has reaped the rewards of personal satisfaction and deserves his share of the commercial cream.