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Time Passages
Al Stewart

Arista 4190
Released: September 1978
Chart Peak: #10
Weeks Charted: 31
Certified Platinum: 3/16/79

Time has always been Al Stewart's favorite subject. It's in the titles of his albums -- Past, Present and Future, Modern Times, Year of the Cat -- and it's in his songs, in the form of reminiscence, history, prophecy. What Stewart says about time is often commonplace ("Time runs through your fingers/You never hold it till it's gone"), but what his implies is more arresting. The cover of Time Passages features a view of the desert, interrupted by a sort of warp into which a mobile home is vanishing. The title track uses this idea of a warp to describe "time passages" into which people disappear and from which -- sometimes -- they unexpectedly return. "Life in Dark Water" eerily projects such a warp into the future: a submarine crewman, daydreaming of his girl back home, suddenly finds himself inexplicably alone on board with a five-hundred-year supply of food.

Al Stewart - Time Passages
Original album advertising art.
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Something like that warp -- call it a sleight of hand that's his best trait -- permeates Stewart's songwriting: somewhere there'll be a verse that introduces a startling ambiguity into an otherwise ordinary narrative. He also tackles Big Themes, an admirable show of thoughtfulness for a pop composer whose thoughts are at time insubstantial. "A Man for All Seasons," for instance, simply strings together existentialist clichés, while "The Palace of Versailles" lazily restates previous Stewart history lessons. But romantic fantasy and resignation commingle intriguingly on "End of the Day," and "Almost Lucy" depicts a prototypic dumb beauty who untypically smartens up.

Al Stewart's singing is anything but passionate, the arrangements rich yet static -- just right for his songs, as usual. Fortunately, producer Alan Parsons spares us the overblown aspects of his own records (time trips of a more pretentious nature) and makes Time Passages sound both statley and commercial. Stewart's sidemen again contribute fine work, expecially alto saxophonist Phil Kenzie and guitarists Peter White and Time Renwick.

- Don Shewey, Rolling Stone, 11-30-78.

Bonus Reviews!

Let's face it: any album with four keyboard players named Pete couldn't be too bad. Al Stewart, a commercial success without having had to change the quiet, contemplative way he has always done things, has this time done what he does about as well as I ever expect to hear it done. His work is not very deep, but it does have a poetic ring to it, along with certain interesting thematic patterns (he keeps returning to history, among other things; here we drop in on Sir Thomas More), and he has a gentle but definite style about everything he does. In this album, the instrumental backing seems exceptionally compatible with that style. There's some fine guitar playing, but no showing off -- and, of course, not much of the spontaneity that buds around other kinds of musical personalities. It's Al Stewart again, doing the Al Stewart thing. That means you can hear a little midnight oil in some of the songs ("Valentina Way"), but stuff that would sound convoluted from other people (including "Song on the Radio") somehow doesn't from Al Stewart. In any case, it's civilized and unique.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 2/79.

Stewart's Arista debut comes nearly two years since the release of his top five "Year Of The Cat," which established the artist as one of contemporary music's best writer/performers. Like many of his prior efforts, Stewart's songs unfold in story form, hitting home with insightful lyrics about the human situation with no emotions left out. The singer's voice flows smoothly and fluidly so that each emotion surfaces clearly. Some of the material has a jazzy feel, due in part to some sizzling alto sax work. Various guitarists take center stage with crisp solos, while other muscle comes from standout play on keyboards, steel guitar, percussion, drums and bass. Producer Parsons allows Stewart the flexibility to do his thing without bogging him down in dense sound layers. Best cuts: "Time Passages," "Song On The Radio," "Valentina Way," "A Man For All Seasons," "Almost Lucy."

- Billboard, 1978.

A return to Stewart's historical themes lyrically, though it's still the overall smoothness of his music that connected with another million listeners. * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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