The Bluetones was a band which never really grabbed our attention, certainly nudging it numerous times across their thirteen hit singles and three Top Ten albums, but never making that incisive move to enthral as they did so many others. Former band frontman Mark Morriss though has had little problem managing to not only awaken but gripping that focus with his second solo album A Flash of Darkness. Consisting of eleven provocative flights of imaginative indie pop with a folk underbelly and soaked in evocative colour, it is a mesmeric adventure bounding eagerly and vivaciously through reflective and tempering shadows. Released via Acid Jazz Records, A Flash of Darkness is a masterful seduction and for our minds the best thing the singer songwriter has unveiled.
The album follows Morriss’ debut album Memory Muscle of 2008, a folk-infused encounter featuring string arrangements from the legendary composer David Arnold which never really rustled up major attention. From the splitting up of The Bluetones in 2011, Morriss has engaged in successful solo tours as well as writing and performing with Matt Berry on his recordings and shows as well as creating his own prog outfit The Maypoles and writing music for David Walliams’ award winning Children’s audio books. A Flash of Darkness continues the musician’s solo adventure with a smile and swagger which enlivens the sounds and invention rippling through the release, the latter aspect a subtle coaxing rather than the loud toxicity you feel it might have been in someone else’s hands.
The title track opens up the proposition, a song one originally written for a short-lived musical project of Morriss and Berry called The Swedish Twins. A sultry Morricone bred call and ambience wraps the ears first, tower bells and whistles sculpting the scenery before the song falls into a sixties pop tasting embrace with the recognisable tones of Morriss adding their warmth to the climate. That mentioned vaunt soaks the song, a brass jazz temptation teasing greater emotion the way of the track whilst the tango of guitar invention and heated harmonies only intensify the virulently irresistible bait. Visually evocative and tenderly commanding, the opener is a sensational slice of songwriting, an artistic adventure to set things off on a real high.
Whereas you can almost add a touch of The Wonder Stuff to the first song, its predecessor Consuela with its gentler yet no less infectious presence, has an eighties flavouring which induces thoughts of The Bluebells and occasionally The Lightning Seeds. Keys add further romance to the persuasion alongside that offered by the melodies and excellent vocal expression. Potent in sound and draped in provocative imagination fuelled hues, the track takes the passions by the hands and whisks them around that summer drenched eighties dancefloor with elegance and contagion before making way for the folkier and rhythmically punchy Guilty Again. A piano crafted beauty immediately kisses thoughts as vocals and a rhythmic prodding skirts its elegance but as with all songs it is one facet of evolving and expanding adventures. Like a lingering smooch, the track strolls with a boisterous gait flinging its happy melodies and hooks around with joyous enterprise to invite and ignite the same pleasure in its recipient.
Both the mesmeric It’s Hard To Be Good All The Time and the enjoyable cover of The Shins’ Pink Bullets engage and treat with resourceful radiance and splendour, though neither can grip the same high level as previous songs. Despite that neither leaves satisfaction empty or provides weak enticement, diversity and ideas persistently leading the imagination into a submissive grin whilst the next infection under the guise of Low Company unveils an enveloping breeze of lyrical and melodic suasion in another sixties/seventies air to seduce from start to finish.
Life Without F(r)iction with its country twang is the next to lift feet from the floor, its bouncy heart unfussy and impossibly tempting before the best song on the album, This Is The Lie (and That’s The Truth), steps up to run its addiction coated fingers through the passions. An acoustic croon with Morriss offering a minimalistic lyrical and musical bewitchment, the track is pure aural manna, additional sirenesque harmonies and small bursts of energy bringing a creative virulence upon ears and emotions. It’s tempting borders on molestation but is simply melodic alchemy at play, the same toxin running through the veins of Space Cadet. The song with a wider brush of sounds and invention smothers the ears in a celestial ambience around thick and deeply permeating melodies, the result another exceptional fascination.
The album closes with firstly another cover, this of Kavinsky’s Nightcall, which without earning the same ardour as the original material still leaves emotions enthralled, and the slow burning Sleep Song, an exceptional track which took time to make its strongest case but over time evolved into another big anthemic highlight. The pair closes up A Flash of Darkness in fine and endearing fashion leaving a return into the release a demanding option, a choice consistently rewarded each and every time by Morriss in one of the early albums of the year. Whether The Bluetones is a lure or not for you, this is one pop album you must not bypass without delving deeply into.
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