[…continued from last post]
The press release that announced the second coming of Altered Images last year was certainly auspicious. Clare had written the album with husband Stephen Lironi from the “Bite” lineup, along with friends/neighbors Bernard [Suede] Butler and Bobby [Bluebells] Hodgens. And against all odds, the press release at new label Cooking Vinyl revealed that original guitarist Johnny McElhone would be participating in the writing and album. With McElhone foundational in the [very successful] band Texas, I was shocked, but pleased by this. I felt that it would offer tremendous continuity between eras of the band but when the CD reached my mailbox, I saw that it wasn’t meant to be. There’s no mention of McElhone on the finished disc. So how would it stack up against the band’s legacy?
Mascara Streakz 2022
“Mascara Streakz” had me from the first synth-claps on the backbeat. I was surprised to hear Altered Images indulging in Electro Trash that reminded me of “Supernature” era Goldfrapp. And I was most intrigued by the abstract loop that figured throughout the song that sounded like a baby vocalizing. And unlike the previous album the backing vocals here added patina to the song without threatening to dislodge Ms. Grogan. The nearly subliminal telephone conversation running under the end of the song following the drop where Clare vamps it up was part of the intrigue this track offered that I was enjoying.
The next song was very different with “Red Startles The Sky” succeeding at recreating a full-tilt Tom Tom Club vibe like some lost track from the “Close To The Bone” sessions. I had to hand it to Stephen Lironi; he really nailed that Bernie Worrell sound on the synth patches. Though the song had a vibe and especially a title to last for days, the cut was on the slight side. It helped that it was a brief and definitely not over egged 3:22.
“The Colour Of My Dreams” was the first song written that sparked the rest of the album. It was a tried and true use of the Altered Images gambit of matching a downbeat lyric with euphoric music to generate that creative friction. The refrain of “I’ve been let down” slotted right in there with “something at you do to me fills me with unease” when mated with the club-ready dance track.
The lush, slightly tropical Disco exotica of “Glitter Ball” showed that enlisting Bernard Butler to add his touch was nothing but a fine idea! After three good songs we received the first modern Altered Images classic, but there would still be more to come. It’s a rare thing in this streaming-the-first-15-seconds music era when an album can be given the chance to unfold its charms and to pull the listener in to its spell. The brief these days is to usually play the strongest card first to hook the listener lest they hit the “next” button. I was liking the arc that this album was building. “Glitter Ball” perfectly built its dreamy dance floor spell.
Then came a glorious curve ball with the tender “Your Life Is Mine” had Lironi returning to the producer’s chair to answer the musical question “what would Robin Guthrie sound like producing Altered Images?” The billowing clouds of DreamPop guitar left little doubt as the gentle rondo of the melody spun and folded on itself like a möbius strip of sound; stretching the loving sentiments into the infinite. Wow! This album was certainly making up for lost time and exploring new vistas of sound for the band.
The four-star songs kept coming with the other Butler tune. “Home” was simply glorious, anthemic pop of such a positive, even euphoric nature, that it managed to get me a little choked up on first listen. I loved the drop in the middle eight where the rhythm box was left holding it all together before Ms. Grogan returned to deliver the powerful verse above. This track wasn’t just written by Grogan and Butler, either. Credits were shared here among all four writers on this album. You can toss that old saw about “too many cooks.” Kudos to producer Butler for realizing that the false fade followed by a vocal reprise dropping the music bed out was exactly the bold ending that a song like this needed!
Next: …Song Sung Bluebell
You have me teetering, Monk. My wallet awaits the exciting conclusion of your G.P.A.
My enjoyment of Mascara Streakz continues unabated! I’ve been listening to it over and over for a couple of weeks now, and it continues to hold my interest. It’s easily one of my top favorites of the year. I expected a bit of nostalgic fun, a throwback to those thrilling days of yore, but in addition to that also received an album rapidly taking its place among my contemporary favorites.
Big Mark – What I will say here is that even by the second listen [I’ve played it at least a dozen times by now] the album had already gelled in my mind as a series of distinct, individual songs that were [mostly] quite memorable.
Possibly dumb comment/question here: what about the Altered Images John Peel Session(s)?
There was an instrumental called The Roman (?) that blew me away back then as I didn’t think they were Peel session material.
Also, Claire Grogan was featured recently on BBC 6 Music Radio’s Radcliffe & Maconie Show’s First, Last & Everything segment. It was excellent – Claire talks
about carrying her copy of Hong Kong Gardens everywhere in her handbag to play to non-believers as Siouxsie was her biggest influence and inspiration!
You should be able to find this on the BBC iPlayer or ‘BBC Sound’ App. Very engaging.
Excellent stuff, Monk, keep up the good work!
Just curious, have you gone down the Bernard Butler rabbit hole?
There’s some really rewarding music to be found for the effort.
Tim – Early on I tried his solo material after he left Suede in the used bins at Park Ave. CDs [they had CD players and phones for try before you buy] but sampling “People Move On” and “Friends + Lovers” did nothing for me. There doesn’t seem to be much after that.
I don’t really need to hear him singing, I like his work with David McAlmont (especially the anthemic “Yes”) and I recently bought an album that he did with Catherine Anne Davies called “In The Memory of My Feelings” which is quite good. There’s also one with Jessie Buckley called “For All Our Days That Tear the Heart” that is worth investigating, that’s a new one from this year. If you check out his discogs page he keeps quite busy as a hired axe, I barely have 10% of those and for me when I listen to something that he worked on I often find myself wondering why I don’t spend more time in this corner of my collection.
Tim – I have to say that I really don’t need to hear Catherine Anne Davis singing! Was annoyed that she toured with Simple Minds, thought not over here, thank goodness!