- 'FIXED WATER' REVIEWS
(23/11/96, by Jennifer Nine)
There's no mistaken the tone: sorrow, longing, abandonment and loss
set to a skeletal orchestra in which acoustic guitar and pedal steel
are only as prominent as the chilly sound of the room in which they
hover like regretful ghosts. There's no mistaken the effect: the weary
peace that comes after tears. But you might be surprised at the source.
Robin Proper-Sheppard formerly of the God Machine's savage parish,
has sculpted a quietly moving eight song elegy for which vulnerable
is hardly an adequate description: 'Fixed water' is so naked it's
practically peeled, with only the gentle music to provide a cloak
of dignity. You don't need to know the details of the tragedies that
inspired it to appreciate the glacier-slow elegy of 'Is it any wonder',
the lonely Neil Young-like majesty of 'Are you happy now?' or a slowly
cracking 'Last night I had a dream', sounding like Mick Jagger singing
'Wild Horses' at the end of the universe. Or the near unbearably beautiful
'So slow' - "Death comes so slow/when it's all you want/and it
takes the ones that don't"- cracking helplessly over the hymn-like
uplift of the melody. The fearless, inarticulate speech of the broken
NME (2/11/96, by Stephen Dalton)
To make a record this sombre you either need to be Nick Cave, a 60-years-old
alcoholic who has pissed away all his chances, or a born again lo-fi
troubadour whose life has been rocked beyond repair by grief and loss.
Robin Proper-Sheppard, aka Sophia, falls into the latter category.
This is the first self-penned material from the Flower Shop label
boss since the death, from a brain tumour, from his former partner
in noisy industro-goth gloomsters The God Machine, Jimmy Fernandez.
Perhaps, inevitably then, it's a relentlessly bleak and downbeat item,
consumed by mournful desolation and shot through with solemn acknowledgement
of mortality. Part elegy and part diaristic confessional, 'Fixed Water'
occasionally rages hard against the dying of the light, but mostly
just surrenders wearily to its flickering flame. With softly strummed
acoustic guitars, plus low-key instrumental backing by members of
Ligament and Elevate, Robin has travelled light years from the storm-lashed
sonic battlements of his God Machine days. Will Palace is the most
obvious reference point, though there are flashes here of Sparklehorse's
bruised majesty in chiming sobathons such as 'So Slow', Galaxy 500
in spooked twinklers like 'I can't believe the things I can't believe',
and even Neil Young in the full-on anthemic country-rock chuggerama
of 'Are you happy know?' Of course, because of the events behind this
album, it feels slightly churlish to nit-pick at its limitations.
But sometimes Robin undeniably pushes his grief-stricken croak down
too mannered and one-dimensional a path, blunting the emotional impact
of a 'Death of a salesman' or 'Another friend' with plodding delivery
and an almost theatrical melancholy. When the misery card is overplayed,
style swamps content and the songs suffer accordingly. Mostly, however,
'Fixed Water' is a lovingly crafted and heartfelt tribute to absent
Watt (1/1/97, by Frank Janssen)
Sophia is Robin Proper-Sheppard, the former God Machine singer, Flower
Shop Recordings is Robin’s own label and Fixed Water is the new album.
Important information for everyone who fell for the tearjerker beauty
of the God Machine album 'One Last Laugh In A Place Of Dying'. Fixed
Water is cut from the same cloth as One Last Laugh. Most definitely
not a happy record. The melancholy and autumnal mood permeate the
record in such a way you could almost reach out and touch them. Robin’s
voice is certainly not the strongest aspect of the Sophia project,
which includes members of the group Elevate. But the subdued, mainly
acoustic and basic arrangements are remarkably atmospheric. The music
is fragile, the lyrics are down right pessimistic: lines such as 'This
world is full of lies', 'love has no meaning', 'death comes so slow
when you're waiting to be taken', 'I'm only happy when you're sad',
make it clear that Robin isn’t exactly skipping through the fields
picking daisies. The confrontational, biting, cutting to the quick
of the God Machine has been exchanged for introspection, calm, but
the drama remains, as does the beaten down mood, the melancholy thick
as molasses, and Robin’s search for the meaning of life. He wrestles
daily with the abstraction of life and death and the triviality of
his existence. This is also his muse. Although there’s no point in
comparing Fixed Water with One Last Laugh.., this does not reach the
level of the unprecedented beauty of the last God Machine record.
But Fixed Water does intrigue, and will regularly find its way into
my CD player during those soul-searching moments. Because, to be honest,
Robin Proper-Sheppard has once again managed to strike a nerve. (***
out of 5)
OOR (by Erik van den Berg)
No female vocalist, this is the new project of Robin Proper-Sheppard,
who left the States for the UK and filled the role of singer/guitarist
in the semi-legendary God Machine. In its short existence (92-94),
this trio released two monumental albums, in which the switch between
narcotic, suffocating intense noise and utterly vulnerable moments
created a dynamic never heard before (the Pumpkins managed to get
rich and famous with it). The sudden death of bassist Jimmy Fernandez
in the middle of '94 was the impetus for the group’s decision to call
it quits. It is Jimmy’s death that stands at the centre of Fixed Water,
which was released on Robin’s own label.
The guitar noise from before is nowhere to be found here, where Robin
sings about death and pain, sorrow and consolation and the numbness
in his emotional life against an intimate softly sad musical background.
'Is it any wonder that to me, love has no meaning?' These are lyrics
filled with unanswered questions, captured in fragile melodies and
music just a steel pedal away from the most melancholy form of country.
Or does the steel pedal suddenly appear-or is it a figment of the
imagination? Either way, what a beautiful record.
Rifraf (1/11/96, by Ron van der Sterren)
After the death of God Machine bassist Jimmy Fernandez, the band likewise
shuffled off this mortal coil. Singer/guitarist Robin Proper-Sheppard
lives on, and with this project he attempts to make sense out of his
dear friend’s passing. Although Sheppard has abandoned the heavy sound
of the God Machine, that’s not to say 'Fixed Water' is easy listening.
The songs are awash in sadness. The sometimes shrieking vocals of
yore are now a voice of defeat, a keening storyteller, and the electric
guitar has been set aside for an acoustic, the bombastic heavy drums
and bass now simply serve to keep time. Musically speaking, Sheppard
has much less to offer than he did with God Machine. But clearly the
intention of this music is merely to support Sheppard’s tragic words.
In that sense, it works.
Opscene (1/2/97, by MR)
Solo project of the former God Machine singer, Robin Proper-Sheppard,
released on his own label. You wouldn’t expect it but this is a beautifully
subdued record that sometimes brings the Red House Painters to mind.
Robin is not the most cheerful guy, with lyrics such as 'Death comes
so slow when you're waiting', but his sorrow is actually more cleansing
than depressing. That’s how it should be.
Uptomusic (by Dave Peeters)
Following the apocalyptic tornadoes, delicate pearls and guitar chaos
of the God Machine, front man Robin Proper-Sheppard has discovered
a new form of occupational therapy with Sophia. The band turns its
back on harsh chord schemes and stays with a melancholy fragility
so dark that in terms of depression it personifies a black hole. Spare
guitar lines, subdued drums and tortured vocals. During live performances,
the group members perch on chairs and at times you could hear the
smallest of pins drop. A well-known philosopher once discussed the
concept of anger suppression and how man takes emotions such as pain,
frustration and rage and uses them to create art. Robin Proper-Sheppard
is living proof of this theory and illustrates it in songs including
'The Death Of A Salesman' and particularly 'So Slow'. 'Fixed Water'
is a scrapbook of eight nostalgic pictures taken by the soul, and
one that will also surely strike a chord somewhere within you.
Q Magazine (March '97, by Martin Aston)
Robin Proper-Sheppard's musical response to the sudden death of fellow
God Machine founder Jimmy Fernandez is an exquisitely sad record in
the tradition of Neil Young's On The Beach, Gram Parsons's Grievous
Angel and Nick Drake's Pink Moon. Given his penchant for power-trio
grandeur, it's a shock that Sheppard can command such economical frailty,
but he and fellow musicians from the Flower Shop stable have mastered
the spellbound, haunted elegy, leaving Sheppard's trembling baritone
beautifully bare (Is It Any Wonder, Death Of A Salesman), or embellishing
it with piano, steel guitar and brushed drums (Death Comes So Slow,
Another Friend). The sentiments behind Are You Happy Now and When
You're Sad are uncomplicated, but not banal. At just 35 minutes, Fixed
Water is unlikely to overwhelm with its intensity, just prompt the
listener to turn the lights down low and stick it on again.
Musiczine.net (Jérémy & Bernard Dagnies)
Leader du défunt et regretté God machine, Robin Proper Sheppard nous
revient avec un nouvel album: " Fixed water ". Pas tout à fait en
solitaire, puisqu'il a reçu le concours des musiciens d'Elevate, de
Ligament et d'Oil Seed Rape. Ce qui explique, sans doute pourquoi,
il a intitulé ce projet: Sophia. Maintenant, ne vous attendez pas
à retrouver toute la fougue et la violence manifestée sur les albums
de God Machine. Vous risqueriez de connaître une grosse désillusion.
Désillusion, un sentiment omniprésent dans les lyrics de Robin, qui
semble ne pas encore avoir réussi à faire le deuil de son ami et compère
Jimmy Fernandez, décédé d'une overdose. Mais un formidable album dont
les vertus mélancoliques devraient plaire, sans aucun doute, aux inconditionnels
de Smog, Palace, Sparklehorse, Red House Painters, Mazzy Star et consorts.