There’s a moment in the video for All I Need Is You (below) where Dan Reed’s mask slips. Just as he delivers the lyric “Dying of thirst when there’s water on Mars” he rolls his eyes in what might be despair – but the very next moment you see it’s a heavier emotion than that: it’s sheer anger.
That might surprise those who’ve become aware of the former Dan Reed Network frontman for his previous solo outing Coming Up For Air, a softer, more downplayed album than latest release Signal Fire.
But for Reed, it’s a natural progression from when he started his comeback five years ago, fresh from a journey through India and Jerusalem.
He tells Classic Rock: “There’s a lot of angst and anger on the record. When I came back in this very peaceful state of mind I had a message of love and compassion I wanted to convey.
“I tried to help get President Obama elected. I played a lot of fundraisers and democratic conventions – then he didn’t’ follow through with a number of things he said he was going to do. That’s when I lost my faith in this world’s leaders. They’re waging holy wars – they might not call them holy wars but that’s what they are.
“Then I see on the news they’re spending billions of dollars going to these freezing dead rocks in space looking for signs there was once life there – where thousands of people a day on Earth die from not having drinkable water.
“It seems kind of silly that we’re acting advanced enough to travel to other planets. What kind of enlightened species would welcome us when we’re killing our own children and not feeding our neighbours? It feels insane.”
That’s not to say Signal Fire comes across as an album of sermons. While Reed continues to explore the present and future of the human condition, he set out to ensure the new record was much more energetic than its predecessor.
“I wanted to make a record that was fun to play live with the band,” he says. “I loved playing Coming Up For Air but it didn’t have everybody on their feet – it was too contemplative. I wanted more teeth to the music.”
Reed didn’t abandon his messages, however. There’s plenty of food for thought in the lyrics, and those who buy into the tracks believing they’ve bought a fast-food snack will be surprised to discover they’ve actually sat down to a nutritionally-balanced banquet. Only Love is a prime example – while the half-interested listener will believe he knows what the song is about, he’ll be very wrong.
“I wanted to play around with cliches like Only Love and All I Need Is You; give them a deeper meaning than the surface level. I tried to go out of my way in masking pointed things – hide it in something I could sneak through to people thinking it was too preachy.
“I didn’t think the last record was too preachy but I remember one review: ‘This record should be played all over the world – if it wasn’t so worthy.’ I was like, ‘Wow, I need to dumb the music down so people will listen to it?’
“So I just made it more of a celebratory record but tried to keep the lyrics intelligent to some degree.”
Reed describes his second time around as “growing nice and steady.” It’s important for him to retain control after the Network went off the rails after nine years in 1993.
“It felt like I was never in control,” he reflects. “Before we were signed we were playing four or five nights a week as a club band, with our own truck, PA and lighting rig. As soon as we got our record deal they looked at us like, ‘You’re the idiots, you’re just the band.’
“When you’re younger you trust everybody. You don’t realise the majority of people who work for the record company, with a few exceptions, come out of law degrees, accountants, whatever. They were fans of music, they love the scene and they want to be around it – but they wielded a tremendous amount of power without having any talent or recognising talent. The internet has levelled that playing field.
“I heard a great quote the other day: ‘There used to be thousands of artists making millions of dollars, now there are millions of artists making thousands of dollars.’ It’s humbling for everybody.”
Dan Reed UK tour
Mar 5: Oxford Academy 2
Mar 6: Sheffield Corporation
Mar 8: Birmingham Academy 3
Mar 9: Manchester Academy 3
Mar 10: Glasgow ABC 2
Mar 12: Newcastle Academy 2
Mar 13: Liverpool Academy 2
Mar 14: Nottingham Rock City
Mar 15: London Underworld
Mar 17: Ahoghill Diamond Rock Club (solo show)