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Cover Story [Issue # 14 ]
Aqualung: Strange & Beautiful: A New Cover For A Familiar Sound

By Mandana Beigi

Strange And Beautiful ( CD Columbia/Red Ink )
Listen to Aqualung on the ONE WAY CD 14

Strange and Beautiful is supposed to retell the story of Aqualung (aka Matt Hales), who had already become a familiar voice in the UK by a popular VW Beetle commercial featuring his song, “Strange and Beautiful,” in 2002. Carefully hand picking the songs from the first two albums, Hales chose to portray a more atmospheric sound for the American listeners. “You can give lots of different impressions of Aqualung depending on which 12 songs you chose, so I was definitely conscious and careful in selecting these songs,” he says. Strange and Beautiful ended up being a compilation of Aqualung’s previous two albums and, as Hales himself puts it, “quite telling” and “further away from the classic singer-songwriter-y stuff.” He is also one of the very few musicians that I’ve met who actually listens to his own records! “Last year, I found myself listening to the first album a lot more than I had for a while. I find it to be a very useful thing to do. It gives me the chance to relisten and think about what I want to do next,” says Hales, who is also producing a solo album for Melanie Blatt.

Born above his parents’ Southampton independent record store, Hales started getting involved in music at a young age. Whether it was listening to the non-stop sound of music being played at his parents’ record store or playing the piano that dominated the front room of their house, Hales acquired an extraordinary talent for songwriting as a teenager. At 11, he was commissioned to compose his school song and by 17, he had written his first symphony, “Life Cycle,” performed by a 60-piece orchestra, with Hales himself conducting. He embarked on a musical journey that included a cover band of The Police (with his brother Ben), a Britpop band in the early ‘90s named Ruth, and another band named The 45’s (not the Atlanta-based garage rock group) while taking composition classes and attending London’s City University.

Strange and Beautiful has merged, not necessarily the best of Aqualung but the best of what Hales believes to be a step away from the typical singer/songwriter material. The title track is what could be called “an experimental piano ballad.” It has a subtle melody, but with enough spunk and ups and downs to take it away from the typical piano ballads. “Falling Out of Love” is a kind of song that could exude a million different moods depending on the lyrics. It’s so versatile and atmospheric that it could make you cry or laugh depending on the words. And as you can imagine from the title, the lyrics are complete emotional devastation with a heartfelt delivery.

“Good Times Gonna Come” is a beautiful song reflecting that little ray of hope in the loneliest and darkest moments in life. The piano strokes take the lyrics to the pinnacle of emotions and Hales’ sincere vocals paint a bittersweet feeling all over this track. While the rhythmic piano solo on “Tounge-tied” is more on the classical spectrum, “Left Behind” is definitely a contemporary sound. And “Brighter Than Sunshine,” the first single released from Strange and Beautiful, is featured in A Lot Like Love, starring Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet (the movie is scheduled for release on 4/22/05).

While Aqualung continues their North American tour while also supporting Jason Mraz and David Ryan on some of their dates in 2005, Matt Hales is less surprised by their audience differences and more by their similarities. “What’s amazing to me is not so much the mood difference at our shows in different cities and different continents, but how little the mood changes from Tokyo to Vienna,” he says. “Our pop-culture is such a massive global thing now that it’s difficult to really see the variety of taste from one place to another.”

With all the great things going for Aqualung these days and with all the expectations and possibilities that lie within the release of this compilation and even their next album, Matt Hales is far from holding the status quo. For one thing, he is experimenting with not using the piano and seeing where that takes the sound of Aqualung. “I want to make the Aqualung music more expansive and maybe more dramatic,” he says. “I don’t want to limit myself to a certain territory. I want to find an area where I could grow musically. I just want to carry on always full of potential.”

Strange And Beautiful
Columbia/Red Ink

Listen to (Aqualung) on the ONE WAY CD

Strange & Beautiful: A New Cover For A Familiar Sound Aqualung Strange And Beautiful

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