[Review] Steve Winwood: Arc of a Diver (1980)

Steve dives into the new world of synthesizers and emerges with a platinum record.

Kronomyth 2.0: Work of a DIY’er.

Nineteen-eighty was a watershed in modern rock as artists anticipated the dark, science fiction future forecast by George Orwell. Peter Gabriel’s third album, Laurie Anderson’s Big Science, David Bowie’s Scary Monsters and Talking HeadsRemain in Light were examples of albums that sought to usher in that future with one big push. And then there was Steve Winwood’s Arc of a Diver: an album of soulful synthesizer pop that seemed to be blissfully ignorant of Orwell and his impersonal future.

If the album contained nothing but fluff after the first two tracks, “While You See A Chance” and “Arc of a Diver,” it would still be a good album. Unfortunately, it does pretty much contain nothing but fluff after those tracks, so it’s only a good album and not a great one. Some effort was made to salvage “Spanish Dancer” and “Night Train” from the wreckage, but if you’re expecting any hidden treasures there I wouldn’t hold your breath.

Yet here’s the thing: all of those edgy 1980 albums were red herrings for a revolution that never arrived. Instead, the future sounded a lot more like Arc of a Diver as singer/songwriters discovered that they could go into a studio with an army of electronic keyboards and come out with a decent-sounding record. It’s not a work of art, but as DIY (Do It Yourself) albums go, Arc of a Diver is a high watermark. It marks the beginning of a new chapter for Steve Winwood, the Multimoogul and Prophet-tearing pop star, who made synthesizers his instrument of choice and found a way to make the soulless box of circuits and switches sing for joy. Now if there were only a machine that could help him write more and better songs…

Original elpee version

A1. While You See A Chance (5:12/5:13)
A2. Arc of a Diver (Steve Winwood/Viv Stanshall) (5:28/5:29)
A3. Second-Hand Woman (Steve Winwood/George Fleming) (3:41/3:34)
A4. Slowdown Sundown (5:27/5:34)
B1. Spanish Dancer (5:58/5:59)
B2. Night Train (7:51/7:51)
B3. Dust (Steve Winwood/George Fleming) (6:20/6:22)

All songs written by Steve Winwood/Will Jennings unless noted. CD track times listed second in parentheses.

The Players

Steve Winwood plays all of the instruments (mostly a mix of electronic keyboards) and sings, although no album credits were listed on the original release (or the subsequent CD re-release). Winwood also produced (and presumably engineered) the album which was recorded in his own studio. Winwood engaged the services of lyricists George Fleming, Will Jennings and (again) bonzo vivant Viv Stanshall.

The Pictures

Original album cover illustration by Tony Wright, who had also illustrated the cover for Traffic’s The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette on December 31, 1980 in the UK (Island, ILPS/ICT-9576), the US (Island ILPS/M5-9576) [purple skyscraper label], Australia and New Zealand (Island, L-37468), Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain (Island, 203.207.320), Canada (Island, XILPS-9576), France (Island, 613 124), Yugoslavia (Jugoton, LSI-73124) and Zimbabwe (Island, ILPS-29576) with innersleeve. Reached #13 on the UK charts and #3 on the US charts (RIAA certified platinum on June 21, 1981).

  1. Re-issued on elpee in the US (Island, ILPS-9576) [blue w. yellow sunset label] without innersleeve.
  2. Re-issued on compact disc and cassette on October 20, 1987 in the UK and the US (Island/Polygram, 842 365).
  3. Re-released on remastered compact disc in 1993 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, UDCD-579).

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