There are over thirty full-length Durutti Column albums, including live recordings and compilations of demo and other studio offcuts. With a body of work as voluminous as this, anyone approaching the music of Vini Reilly might not be entirely certain where to start, given that those albums begin in 1980 with ‘The Return Of The Durutti Column’ after which there are a bewildering number of assorted releases on almost as many record labels, as a perusal of the band website would quickly show.
Perhaps aware of this and also wishing to make certain that the fractured, elegiac and occasionally visceral instrumental music of the Durutti Column actually finds an audience in today’s equally fractured music world, Factory Benelux have reissued 1990s Obey The Time, an album that represents not just a creative peak for Reilly’s music but that is also maybe one of his more accessible recordings. Influenced by the electronic club sound of the late 80s, rather than just go off and make some dance tracks of his own Reilly incorporated elements of that sound into his own compositions. This might seem an obvious route to take today, but with Reilly’s background in classical music and his already notable reputation as a musician, Obey The Time very much avoids sliding into a piano chord led collection of ravey clichés.
Unlike a lot of music from the late 80s and early 90s that has a reliance on the then current musical trends, much of the album stands up surprisingly well given the three decades since its recording. After the brief intro of ‘Vino Della Casa Bianco’ Obey The Time begins properly with the grittily funk propelled ‘Hotel Of The Lake’, its stuttering bass rhythm neatly undercut by Reilly’s plaintive guitar motifs, music that relies on contrast to put its point across. Next track ‘Fridays’ does something similar, utilising the familiar sounding piano house riff within the dubby soundscape of a repetitive guitar and drum sequence and, partly down to the minimalistic production, doesn’t sound in the least dated. The music on Obey The Time has retained its energies with remarkable clarity.
‘Home’ is a dalliance with ambience, which some listeners might expect to hear more of (I’m sure Reiily is a significant influence on more recent musicians such as Noveller, for example), and then next track ‘Art And Freight’ is only a vocal part away from the kind of song that you might have heard in, say, Ian Brown’s solo work a decade later. Reilly has always seemed evasive about which other Manchester bands and musicians he has worked alongside, indeed his collaboration with Morrissey was far from a highlight of either of their careers, but it seems obvious that his influence has been a significant one.
One definite album highlight is ‘Neon’, a track whose insidious guitar part is reminiscent of the Channel 4 station idents of yesteryear, and it breaks up into a swirl of decreasing instrumentation until only Reilly’s guitar remains, keening purposefully into a fade. ‘The Warmest Rain’ could be a demo for a Depeche Mode single, with a similarity in its tune to how the Mode are known to sound that is too definite to ignore, and while ‘Contra-Indications’ has a superficial connection to the then nascent Madchester sound, the multi-tracked guitar parts and synth interjections are Reilly trademarks.
Obey The Time inevitably carries some musical history along with it, but Vini Reilly seems destined to remain a footnote within the Manchester scene, perhaps undeservedly, although that is maybe how he has chosen to remain. Whatever his purpose, he has created some startlingly resonant music, influenced countless others, and remains something of an enigma in his own right. Three decades after its first appearance, this is an album that’s worth an hour or two of your own time.
Words Jon Gordon