Despite still being in his twenties Bill Ryder-Jones is a veritable elder statesman of the music industry. His twelve years with The Coral brought fame and acclaim but his surprising exit from the band in 2008 has left him at a bit of a crossroads. Rather than take the easy path and churn out some Coral-lite pop, Ryder-Jones has taken a more highbrow approach and composed a soundtrack to Italo Calvinos literary masterpiece, If On a Winters Night a Traveller, a rather bold move, the result of which is If...
The first thing to note is that If... is a bona fide soundtrack, not in the modern ‘Jamiroquai and Puff Daddy singing unrelated songs between Godzilla’s legs’ kind of way, but a serious mood-setting suite of music that follows the arc of Calvino’s post modern tale. The tracks here are mostly instrumental with Ryder-Jones’ piano leading the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra through the various episodes. Despite having an orchestra at his disposal he keeps the music soft and elegant and avoids over complicating the instrumentation, the restraint adding to the mood and authenticity of the album.
Though the story can’t be fairly synopsised here in a couple of sentences (or possibly even in a few paragraphs) it is a book that allows Ryder-Jones to show off his musical knowledge and talent while ensuring the album keeps to a definite structure. Just as Calvino’s jarring change of style is one of the techniques synonymous with the book, Ryder-Jones is equally adept at switching landscapes without warning, summed up by the electric guitar solo that ends 'Enlace'; as unexpected as it is thrilling. Likewise, Ryder-Jones descriptive music matches Calvino’s creative writing with locomotive-esque piano rhythms and strings that squeal like train brakes in the titular opening track perfectly mirroring the opening chapter.
On a musical level this album is a beautiful and worthwhile experience but probably has a limited commercial appeal; If... bears no conceptual or musical connection to Bill Ryder-Jones’ well known previous work, so how it will be received is anyone’s guess. The music does not easily lend itself to radio airplay and the source material is a book that is far from universally loved due to its complicated and confusing nature. This is clearly not an issue to Ryder-Jones, had he wanted mainstream success he would have stayed with The Coral or produced a solo copycat album. While If... may become a hidden gem or the ‘little known album you can impress your friends with’ it must also be a CV for Bill Ryder-Jones, with a career in serious film scoring a likely outcome.
- Brian Kinsella