I’ve recently been revisiting a lot of artists that I’ve previously featured on this blog, as so many of them are putting out new music. One of my personal favorites is British artist Paul Iwan, a gracious and talented singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Liverpool. Last October, I reviewed his outstanding single “Reward”, which was a cover of the song originally recorded by Liverpool new wave band The Teardrop Explodes. I liked it so much, it spent four months on my Weekly Top 30. Now Paul is back with a new single “Returning”, for which he recorded two different versions – “Returning (Red)” and “Returning (Blue)”.
He wrote the song last year for submission to the Liverpool Acoustic 24 hour Songwriting Challenge at Threshold Festival 2019, and he won! Like many singer-songwriters, Paul’s lyrics often reflect his own life experiences. The theme of the 2019 Challenge was ‘Returning’, which inspired Paul to contemplate his own personal struggles with PTSD and addiction, and explore the concept of returning as it relates to his experiences with relapse and regression. The competition also pushed him to venture outside of his usual comfort zone and into a more acoustic setting, where the song could speak for itself.
Now, a year later he has released two newly recorded versions of the song to coincide with what would have been the first day of Threshold 2020 (unfortunately sidelined by the damned COVID-19 pandemic). The Red version of “Returning” is in Paul’s more typical exuberant alt-rock style, with layered synths, loops and electric guitars, whereas the Blue version is stripped back to a simple arrangement with acoustic guitar, piano, vibraphone and subtle percussion. The songs were performed and produced by Paul at Studio 45 in Liverpool, and mixed and mastered by Andy Fernihough at 3rd Planet Studios Liverpool.
So I lean into my darkness
I touch the trauma with the tips of my fingers
Under this light how can I see?
The shadows are shifting; inviting me in.
You are there
You are there
Suffocating and suffering
I hold my hands
I’ll be watching
And I’ll be waiting for you
I’m returning to my fear, its all I know
I’m returning to my tears, it’s all I know.
I know my storm is coming in
Whatever I’ve taken
You hold my soul my memories
This face in the mirror
The face of my nightmare
Lost and corrupted
I’m returning from a distance
But my reflection is all I see
I’m yearning for the past
The one I thought I’d lost forever
So much pain within
I’m returning to my fear
It’s all I know
I like both versions a lot, but I think I prefer the Blue version if I had to choose one over the other. I like the higher clarity of sound in the Blue version, where the lovely piano keys and acoustic guitar really stand out. Also, Paul has a distinctive and vibrant tenor singing voice, and with the more subdued instrumentals, the power of his vocals and lyrics are allowed to shine through. Take a listen to each version, and decide for yourself.