In the year 2000, one of my all-time favorite trance albums hit the scene: Behind the Sun by Chicane. Featuring vocals by Bryan Adams, Justine Suissa, Tracy Ackerman, and Moya Brennan, Chicane’s sophomore release mixes talent from a variety of musical circles. As the album celebrates 20 years, one question comes to mind: Does the album hold up in 2020? I realize I said this is my favorite trance album of all time, but I’ll try to take an objective look at the album. Will I hold my opinion strong on Behind the Sun? Or will I say that Chicane’s second album sound dated and irrelevant to today? This is Retro Album Review: Behind the Sun.
Overture / Low Sun
The first two tracks are instrumental. Track one is a simple three-minute overture, leading us into the world of Behind the Sun. We’re greeted with a slow, yet cosmic, feel of various electronic synthesizers. Overture serves its purpose well, to invite us into the world that is Behind the Sun.
The sound of gentle ocean waves as Overture ends leads us into the second track called Low Sun. We start the track with an electric piano, repeating three notes. As the song progresses, we hear a synthesizer emulating a flute. Meanwhile, a drum machine gives us a steady beat. Another synth joins in a few bars later and repeats a second stanza. Synthetic strings, more flutes (possibly real), and more electric pianos join Low Sun. The various crescendos and progressions on Low Sun gives the feeling of watching the sunrise over an ocean. The flutes even sound like birds chirping in the trees. It’s quite an effect!
All in all, Overture and Low Sun work well together. Without words, we see the picture both songs paint.
No Ordinary Morning
No Ordinary Morning starts in a minor key as a couple of synths introduce us to the song. Maybe three or four bars into the song, English Singer/Songwriter Tracy Ackerman shares the saddest lyrics on the album. The lyrics, written in the second person, emulates a letter one might write and never send to a recent ex. Ackerman sings in a monotone almost exclusively. This monotone matches the numb feeling the speaker expresses in the first stanza, specifically with the line “Leaves me numb inside I think of you / Together is all I knew.”
No Ordinary Morning’s lyrics are littered with heartbreaking lines. In the coda, the lyric “n the darkness that surrounds me / Now there is no peace of mind / Your careless words undo me / Leave the thought of us behind” leaves us wanting to sob and hug our teddy bears. But mostly, we feel empty. Not lonely, not even sad, just empty.
No Ordinary Morning perfectly emulates the sensation of a surprise break up.
If you know the music of Clannad, then Moya (aka Máire) Brennan needs no introduction. Brennan provides the guest vocals on Saltwater, mostly in Gaelic. The actual lyrics of Saltwater translate to a couple of phrases about swimming in the ocean. However, Saltwater takes 10 minutes to show this simple message. Why? Well, this is trance music after all. Trance is known to build emotion as it builds and adds sounds. Saltwater isn’t about the lyrics. Saltwater is about the feeling one feels while swimming in a seemingly endless body of water. How peaceful, and how small, we feel against something so massive. And with the same lyrics and sounds repeated over, and over again, we get that feeling.
Saltwater makes the listener feel both relaxed and maybe even insignificant as we swim through things much larger than ourselves.
Halcyon is the weakest song of the album. That’s not to say Halcyon is boring. But at nine minutes, there are times that Halcyon lags, especially a couple of minutes into the song. Oh, but keep listening. At about 7 minutes in, we’re treated to one of the most beautiful melodies on the entire album.
Halcyon might feel weak at times, but even in weakness, we find beauty.
“Shadows of falling leaves / October moon and rusty skies / Ever changing feelings / The seeds of autumn in my mind” This is the phrase that sold me on Autumn Tactics. Sung by Justine Suissa of Oceanlab and Above and Beyond (two of my favorite trance bands aside from Chicane), I just can’t judge this song with any objectivity.
With that said, I can see an interpretation that does not match my own. While looking at the lyrics, we hear a bit of a mournful tone. Suissa sings about winter, just around the corner, the hiding sun, and the cold darkness that autumn brings. Suissa also sings “summer is my only friend.” Judging by the lyrics, Autumn Tactics was is not a happy song despite my interpretation. But autumn is my favorite season, and Autumn Tactics describes my favorite season well. So, my prejudiced opinion is that Autumn Tactics is the happiest song on the album.
Grade: A (though your interpretation may vary).
There’s not much to say about Overlap. It’s a simple instrumental that builds upon itself with repetitive sounds. Overlap isn’t boring mind you, in fact, it’s very interesting. But not too interesting. In fact, Overlap gives your mind and emotions a rest. Overlap serves as a bit of a chill pill if you will.
Overrest serves as a musical rest stop for your emotion. Get out, stretch your legs, and chill out before the album’s finale.
Don’t Give Up
80s and 90s mainstay Bryan Adams lends vocals and co-writes the song Don’t Give Up. Like most of the songs on this album, the song builds upon simple concepts. However, the upbeat notion of the song gives a new voice to the album. The thesis, “Don’t give Up,” provides a juxtaposed viewpoint with darker songs such as No Ordinary Morning. Don’t Give Up particularly even serves as an answer to Autumn Tactics. While Autumn Tactics laments the hiding sun, Don’t Give Up starts with the line “don’t worry if the sun doesn’t shine.” That, my friends, is depth!
On its own, Don’t Give Up is a good song. Paired with other songs on the album, Don’t give Up is insanely profound.
The final instrumental and album closer, Andromeda, gently leads us out of the album. Through a series of up-tempo beats and a handful of synths, we’re left to process what we’ve heard. We’re left to meditate and reflect on the lessons brought to us by the likes of Brennan, Adams, Suissa, Ackerman, and of course, Chicane himself.
Andromeda isn’t a song that you listen to by itself, but in the context of the album, Andromeda provides an epilogue to the album.
What’s the verdict on Behind the Sun?
With this listen to Behind the Sun, I learned it truly is an album and not just a collection of songs. Every song is connected in some way or another to the whole. The instrumentals, while not the strongest part of the album, connect the stronger songs. We especially get this feeling with Overlap, as The song Don’t Give Up serves as an answer to Autumn Tactics. This is the biggest strength of Behind the Sun. While most of the songs have something to do with the sun (or lack thereof) the connection to each song shares is deeper than just a shared theme. There’s a kinship between the 9 songs.
So, what is my verdict? Does Behind the Sun still hold shape at age 20? Yes. The depth of the songs themselves, as well as the interconnective quality of the album, upholds my theory that Behind the Sun is truly one of the best, if not the best, trance album ever recorded.
In all fairness, there is a weakness found on the album which I have not talked about. Before Andromeda, there’s a remix of Saltwater. There’s also a hidden track – a remix of Don’t Give Up. While both remixes are strong, they set the two songs apart from the other tracks on the album. As I’ve demonstrated, however, the tracks on Behind the Sun need to exist in a shared ecosystem. So, I give a thumbs down on the remixes as part of the album. Maybe the remixes would have been better served as a maxi-single release. With that said, Behind the Sun remains strong, even 20 years later.
If you liked this retro album review, be sure to check out my review of Erasure’s Abba-Esque. Also, check out my theory on Ladytron’s recurring character, and be sure to listen to my electronica playlist. Thanks for reading, and Rock on, Rock steady!