With the dissolution of Dead Can Dance two years ago, the schizophrenia that gave the music its conflict and mystique was finally cured. Angelic singer Lisa Gerrard was free to pursue the serpentine swirls and exotic esoterica that showed up on recent scores for The Insider and Gladiator, while Brendan Perry's booming baritone and trad-folk leanings have finally found a solo outlet with Eye of the Hunter.
Dead Can Dance's 16-year history amounts to a remarkable balancing act. Gerrard and Perry severed their romantic attachment at the start of the '90s, around the time their magnum opus, Aion, was released. With Gerrard married with children in Australia and Perry alone in his island castle in Ireland, the group's long-distance relationship became a strain, yet its popularity flourished like never before. The tension was evident in the chasm dividing the duo's compositions of DCD's final release, 1996's Spiritchaser. Concerts provided more evidence of these conflicting personalities, with Perry's 12-string acoustic folk sounding increasingly incompatible against Gerrard's soaring, ethno-opera pieces.
In 1998 the group announced a new studio album, and tickets went on sale for several European dates. Then Perry and Gerrard abruptly pulled the plug and took divergent paths. With two solo albums already under her belt, Gerrard plunged into lucrative soundtrack work with musical partners Pieter Bourke and Hans Zimmer. It's taken 4AD this long to give Perry his solo sea legs -- possibly because his softer, stool-perching style didn't thrill them.
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Indeed, moments harking back to the classical power and majesty of Dead Can Dance are few on Eye of the Hunter, with most of the eight pieces falling under the brooding bed-sit banner. Only the ornate arrangement of "Death Will Be My Bride" captures the kind of profound, somber sadness the band exemplified, with some real pain creeping into Perry's voice. Precursors to his solo style are plainly Leonard Cohen and Scott Walker, but there's also a line lifted in homage from a Nick Drake song, more than one tip of the tam to Eire's own Van Morrison, and on "Sloth," Perry sounds so Lightfootian, the track could have been a lost refugee from Gord's Gold.
Lyrically Eye of the Hunter is completely autobiographical. Heart emblazoned on sleeve, Perry directly addresses the loss of Gerrard on the pining "The Captive Heart," regards his father's aging on "Saturday's Child," and rails against his own temporal mismanagement on "Sloth." "Medusa" rues the loss of youth -- a recurring theme.
The spacious, open-air sound of Quivvy Church, where Perry makes his home and studio, imbues the album with the ecclesiastical air that distinguished DCD. Yet considering the directness of the acoustic/organic material, the pristine production feels clinical and chilly. And at only 40 minutes, it's somewhat disappointing that Perry couldn't afford to add his tasteful cover of Fred Neil's "The Dolphins" or his daring version of 13th Floor Elevators' "Slide Machine" to give Eye of the Hunter more variety. His tender remake of Tim Buckley's "I Must Have Been Blind" is a worthy addition to the overall theme of regret but doesn't exactly make Perry more well-rounded.
Perry's and Gerrard's outputs apart from Dead Can Dance make it apparent what a great loss the band's demise represents. Working in unison they sought a musical wisdom as the ultimate yin-yang duo, surviving geography, time, and heartbreak and defying gravity for 16 years. Eye of the Hunter suggests that Perry's best work came when he was united with his better half.