STEVE WINWOOD — Arc of a Diver

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STEVE WINWOOD - Arc of a Diver cover
2.74 | 3 ratings | 2 reviews
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Album · 1980


A1 While You See A Chance 5:12
A2 Arc Of A Diver 5:28
A3 Second-Hand Woman 3:41
A4 Slowdown Sundown 5:27
B1 Spanish Dancer 5:58
B2 Night Train 7:51
B3 Dust 6:20


Steve Winwood / Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Bass, Drums, Percussion, Keyboards, Synthesizers, Lead & Backing Vocal

About this release

Island Records ‎– ILPS 9576 (US)

Thanks to Chicapah for the addition and snobb for the updates


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Specialists/collaborators reviews

I don’t think I’m going out on a shaky limb by proposing that the majority of singer/songwriters have, at one point or another, thought that if they were allowed to play all the instruments and sing all the parts of their compositions themselves they would, at last, be able to craft their tunes exactly as they sound in their heads. In other words, “if I didn’t have to deal with all the bozos on this bus I could reach my potential.” Nowadays, in this age of having the luxury of a multi-channel recording studio (with no expensive hourly rates) available on the PC in your bedroom, that dream is an easily-attained reality for almost anyone on the planet. But until the advent of integrated circuits, unimaginable data storage and memory capabilities as well as user-friendly engineering software that ideal was difficult if not impossible to accomplish. Only a handful of extremely talented and brave souls like Stevie Wonder and Todd Rundgren were willing to attempt such a feat but they were the rare exceptions, not the rule. Even then they had to rely on others for some amount of technical assistance so a pure, all-by-myself-with-nobody’s-help album that sounded worth a flip was, to my knowledge, non-existent. Enter Steve Winwood.

Mild-mannered, affable Steve had been strained through the ringer. Stints with The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith, Ginger Baker’s Air Force and an unsuccessful solo LP had frustrated Winwood not for the music he made in those endeavors but for the constant personality conflicts and infantile soap opera dramas that plagued each of them. Who could blame him for thinking “I could do great things if only I didn’t have to involve other people!” Therefore, after finding out in the course of recording his ‘77 “Winwood” disc that being in charge of a collection of musicians didn’t necessarily mean they’d do what you wanted them to do, he made the decision to go it wholly alone. He took his earnings and his dignity, went home to Gloucestershire, built his own facility, named it Netherturkdonic Studios and sequestered himself inside for three years. The result was the remarkable “Arc of a Diver,” a record that he wrote, performed, engineered, produced and mixed completely on his own. It takes a special artist to do that competently but Steve Winwood has always been special so it really didn’t surprise me or any of his loyal fans much at all. We were just happy to have him back with us.

He wisely opens with the catchy and highly-applicable-to-his-situation song “While You See a Chance.” It is, admittedly, firmly ensconced in the category of pop yet it still impresses with its involved, well-thought-out arrangement. This wasn’t thrown together in a day, folks. The chord progressions he created contain a lot of contemporary R&B ingredients and, considering that the whole album was built piece by piece with only Steve singing and playing all the parts, it’s astonishingly seamless. In light of the cynicism generated by punk rock and the vapid sentiments aired by New Wave during the late 70s, Winwood’s positive and motivating message of “when there’s no one left to leave you/even you don’t quite believe you/that’s when nothing can deceive you/when you see a chance, take it…” was so refreshing that the tune rocketed to #7 on the singles chart and stayed there for weeks. “Arc of a Diver” has a Motown-ish feel that glides underneath Steve’s warm, unmistakable voice, making for a pleasant listening experience under any circumstance. His guitar prowess (or lack thereof) has always been his weakest asset but he smartly keeps it under a tight rein here. The lyrics explain his temporarily-retired scenario poetically. “Lean, streaky music/spawned on the streets/I hear it/but with you I had to go/’cause my rock & roll/is putting on weight/and the beat it goes on,” he sings.

“Second-Hand Woman” follows. The throbbing bass drum that epitomized the dreaded disco beat was, tragically, a necessary evil in those waning “boogie down” days (everybody was still toying with it) but the song itself is rather harmless and his synth licks are sprightly, giving the track pizzazz. The words address both his disdain for and attraction to groupies as he goes from “you’re society’s slave, babe/you’re an ugly rumor” to “please don’t go away today/tomorrow’s okay.” “Slowdown Sundown” is next and it’s a pensive ballad with an engaging, balanced blend of instrumentation to lend it a firm texture. He tosses in some clever kicks and accents along the way to keep it interesting and his synth ride sounds like a soprano sax. He sagely saves the Hammond organ for the last segment and it bestows upon it a delightful gospel aura as he croons “here’s to someday when someone understands it/why life keeps turning like a mad thing/until that someday I’ll just play what I have to play/though I play it alone.” Can’t say he’s not honest. A mysterious but sly, funky groove guides “Spanish Dancer,” a track that erects a cool, jazzy atmosphere. Winwood’s voice is his most unique gift and he’s an unrivaled master at knowing how to use it as he does when delivering emotional lines like “you can’t hold me when I get to feeling this way/it’s all over, I’m inside the music that’s playing/it takes me out across the wall/it makes my life a carnival.”

The nearly 8-minute “Night Train” is powered by Steve’s energy-filled performance where his proficiency on an array of keyboards can’t be overlooked. He coerces an excellent funky bass guitar approximation out of his synthesizer, the tune’s dynamic bridge section proves he wasn’t about to take shortcuts and he delivers a tasteful, golden-toned guitar lead to top it off. “My ticket paid/trying to fade/I hope I get there/not just somewhere I was leaving,” he sings. He closes the album with the runt of the litter, “Dust,” but with a voice like his it could be a nursery rhyme air and it’d still be decent. He tries too hard to be profound with lyrics like “the dust settles again/to remind me still/of memories I’ve cherished so long” but this pop ballad isn’t so lame that it spoils the whole stew.

Released on the last day of 1980, this record zoomed up to #3 on the Billboard charts, bringing Winwood out of the shadows and into the limelight. In some ways I guess that was ironic since he seemed to be trying to get out of the circus rather than become one of its featured acts. But the confidence that level of acceptance gave him spurred him on to continue down the path of no longer feeling that he had to be part of a band to express himself as a legitimate, relatable artist. “Arc of a Diver” is very consistent throughout and most of the time it sounds like anything but a D.I.Y. project. Steve spent a whole lot of time on this record and you can tell without a doubt that he put his heart and soul into every single track. It’s not his jazziest work but that’s okay. It’s a lasting monument to a great artisan’s self-motivated determination to finally get it right.

Members reviews

Sean Trane
Well, did anybody still expêct Stevie Winwopod to count still on the rock-pop scene by the turn of that new dacade?? Indeed his worthy debut album had gone completely unnoticed a few years bafore and prior to that Traffic had died a slow inevitable death after completely running out of steam with that "Landed" Eagle album. Most likely his Island label didn't either, since Winwood was allowed to play every single instrument on the album's recording session, which probably says quite long about their faith into his rebounding. Of Course Stevie is a talented multi-instrumentalist, but leaving him to play the drums? I mean why not calling on buddy capaldi for a few private sessions. So as you'll probably guess, one shouldn't expect much instrumental quality (despite the man's ability on guitars and keys) on an album that coul've been done in one's basement if it wasn't for Winwood's status.

Somehow, some of these tracks really hit the average joe's imagination, especially the While You See A Chance (you take it) probablty was in phase with the times and the republican's fture accession to the US presidency or even Tatcher's accession the previous year. But that's probably not enough to justify that song's accession to the top of the charts, but it certainly cannot be the chosen bad synth sounds (well we're in those awful 80's), something that the title track (also receiving much airplay) or the uninspired Spanish Dancer. Even the longer tracks like like the 8-mins Nightrain and Dust are very much unsurprisingly uninteresting when it comes to musical interplay, because Stevie only plays with himself, and you hjust know how un-fun masturbation can be when it's not shared with fellow musicians.

This album had everything to be a stinker and sink in anonimity, but somehow an underdog does manage to defy the odds and strangely tops and buries an immensely superior debut solo album. So, just how did this album ever end up topping the charts and ruin my life soundtrack for the next few years, it's difficult to assess, but it's clear that the up-coming New Wave movement that allowed for instrumentally untalented bands and artistes played an obvious and unarguable role. Of course Winwood didn't appeal to New Wave kids, but more to the AOR markets, which was dominated by the no-less awful Journey and REO bands, so everything was possible back then, in the worst decade of the pop-rock realm. Best avoided if you love real music, but if you're just into mindless pop, and into early-80's nostalgia, go for it.

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  • Steve Wyzard

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