Menubar Home

MEDIA: Reviews: Senso

* * * * 1/2

by Toby Creswell - Rolling Stone (Australia), September 1984, issue 379

Stephen Cummings' forte has always been the romantic ballad. On this, his first solo album, he transforms what was a natural bent into a magnificent obsession. Senso is superficially a collection of romance songs slanted towards the slower numbers. However with repeated listenings it becomes much more than that - it's one of those rare records which reveals new depths and new delights with each spin.

Cummings has long been known to be an afficionado of short stories; I remember reading an interview where he singled out the writer Ring Lardner in particular, and most of his lyrics with the Sports were like little narratives. With only a few lines and his unique phrasing he could tell some fantastic kitchen sink drama or paint a cutting portrait. Surprisingly, there is none of this here and I'm a little disappointed; it's like he's telling tales of mystery and romance but not revealing all the clues. Instead we have some internal dialogue with a few deft sketches to pique our interest. Fortunately his imagery is so often oblique (this is the man who wrote the classic line "You're so abstract, like Robert Rauschenberg") that even though the plots may be familiar the tales are all intriguing.

Lyrically the songs move from melancholic rapture to ecstatic reverie with paranoia, viciousness and quiet determination in there somewhere as well. Cummings delivers them with more confidence than he showed on the Sports records and he seems especially comfortable with the strong female harmonies and duets. His phrasing has never been better, his voice is more mature and his control more supple. He still loves to twist words out of shape and squeeze nuance from his vocal melody but he rarely mangles the lyric as has happened in the past.

Much credit must go to producer Martin Armiger, first of all for his sympathy with the songs and their singer, secondly for the meticulous way he has built the songs up, and layered the keyboards, guitars and drums into a dense liquid music which complements the vocals and solo instruments. Special mention must be made of Vince Jones' cornet on "I Won't Give Up Your Love" and the female vocalist (Stephanie Sproul?) on the same track.

Although the music falls into the general category of soul, Armiger and Cummings have sensibly stayed away from trying to emulate American black music. If they lose a certain amount of sharpness, they gain the strength of their own identity. The album, to my ears at least, is not slick funk but has, despite the songs of vengeance and boredom, a certain warmth. The musicians can take a bow here - Armiger again and a cast which includes Andrew Pendlebury, Nick Smith, Linda Nutter, and members of I'm Talking.

If none of the songs have been singled out for mention it's because they are all good, if not equally so. However what makes the album special is its wholeness through which it becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

Blast From The Past

by Mitchell Peters - What's On, Courier Mail, 17 October 1996

Senso was the debut solo album for Melbournian, Stephen Cummings. Fresh from a rich tenure with The Sports, Cummings entered the solo recording world with a pocket full of hooks and an album of subtle ambition. With the Sports, Cummings had hit pay dirt with the likes of Who Listens to the Radio, Don't Throw Stones, Strangers on a Train and How Come. Senso saw Cummings blending cool grooves with synth-pop. Still, the record was anything but synthetic. The assembled payers included Joe Camilleri, Vince Jones, Joe Creighton and drummers Pete Luscombe and Ricky Fataar. Released in 1984, the album was packed with hit singles. Gymnasium led the pack. Better songs included Another Kick in the Head, The Company Turns Ugly and My Mission Tonight. Two choice covers that showcase Cummings vocal prowess were Backstabbers and Only a Lonely Man. Produced by his former Sports cohort, Martin Armiger, Senso never achieved the chart success it deserved. The quality of the work, however, far exceeds any kudos that gold records might offer.

A seamless affair, Senso was the last time Cummings threw himself wholeheartedly into the pop pool. Still, like his later work, Senso was full of dark shadows and lilting images.

These days you'll find the disc in the lower price bins. As an added bonus, the CD issue also features the criminally underrated debut single, We All Make Mistakes.

the Stephen Cummings site - email: feedback AT