Somnambule - Writing About Music

John Foxx ~ Cathedral Oceans III

I first began listening to John Foxx’s music just after he ended his three album tenure as leader of Ultravox. I went halves on these albums (the eponymous debut, Ha!-Ha!-Ha! and Systems Of Romance) with my best friend and we took possesion on alternate fortnights of the vinyl album. I still know all the lyrics off by heart, but lost track of Foxx’s solo career after 1985’s In Mysterious Ways. Cathedral Oceans is the first time I’ve heard this latest stage of Foxx’s career, apart from witnessing a guest appearance at his friend, Harold Budd’s farewell concert in Brighton last year.

Cathedral Oceans III can trace its lineage back to a track on Foxx’s second solo album, The Garden: Pater Noster was a setting of a Latin mass to a disco beat and was far more successful than such a description might suggest. With titles such as ‘City Of Endless Stairways’, ‘Serene Velocity’ and ‘Through Gardens Overgrown’, it would be hard to envisage music that was anything other than ethereal and haunting.  In its stilled atmospheres and sense of vast, reverberating spaces, Cathdral Oceans III also suggests echoes of ‘Just For A Moment’, the concluding track on Ultravox’s final, Foxx-helmed album, Systems Of Romance. That piece centred upon an unexpected moment of disjunction, balanced on either side by a sense of wondering otherness.

Beatless and spectral though it is, Cathedral Oceans III is not ambient in the traditional sense. There’s too great a sense of the melodic, as though each song were a cloud of pollen or a distilled essence that’s been alchemically siphoned from an original, less fluid structure. John Foxx has in the past steered clear of reference to any specific religious belief, preferring instead to talk of the wonder of the artistic impulse in the experience of church architecture, but the depth of there references here makes me wonder whether he has discovered some form of faith now. Whether or not that’s the case, Foxx shares with Harold Budd (and Brian Eno) an unabashed love of the musically beautiful. Here is the wistful breath, the early morning mist, the transfiguring sunset. For this listener, it feels like a homecoming.

Colin Buttimer
February 2006
Published by Milkfactory