This may get a little confusing, so please concentrate out there. The enigmatically named Suzy Starlite and her husband and musical soulmate Simon Campbell first came together in 2012 when Simon joined Suzy’s band at the time. After one or two other musical projects, it was 2016 when they formed the Starlite Campbell Band together, but despite releasing their debut album Blueberry Pie soon afterwards, the world had to wait until late 2021 for the excellent follow-up The Language Of Curiosity, which was reviewed in these pages. I was impressed with that set, with its musical sensibilities drawn from the late 1960s and early ‘70s, displaying elements of Free, The Kinks, Ten Years After and even the Carpenters. Starlite and Campbell wrote all the songs, played most of the instruments, (plus an outside drummer and some extra keyboard players), did all the production in their own studio and released it on their own Supertone label, and frankly I loved it.
So far so straightforward, but here we are two years later and they have taken a bit of a sideways step with their third studio album Starlite.One – sure, they still do all the writing, play all the instruments (with the addition of drummer Hugo Danin), and do all the production, and they have even added creating their own artwork to the list. But the retro feel has been updated to the ‘80s, with swathes of electronic synths and percussion, and the shift has been accompanied by a name change, from Starlite Campbell Band to Starlite & Campbell. So feel free to view it as the new band’s debut release if you wish.
They are also touting the new disc unashamedly as a concept album, as art rock and as a multi-media project. It is designed to be heard on LP, inasmuch as the first five songs comprise Programme A, with the last four as Programme B. At just 35 minutes, I suppose you could say there’s no chance of it outstaying its welcome, and it is available from the band’s own website on 180g vinyl with gatefold sleeve and printed inner sleeve, as a gatefold CD with downloadable digital art and lyric booklet, or as a complete download package exclusively from Bandcamp.
So does it still work? I would say overwhelmingly, yes. It’s a different musical vibe for sure, but the crystal-clear production values are still there, and the contrast between Simon’s soft and thick vocal style and Suzy’s sweet, clear voice still creates that variety and texture. The set begins with a slow and ominous rock rhythm with a groovy guitar line and thudding, raspy bass, resolving into the lead single Saving Me, melodically highly reminiscent of Atomic by Blondie. Simon sings that one, with Suzy taking the vocals on next song The Voting Machine, with chunky guitars laid over its up-tempo 1980s pop vibe and unmistakable social comment.
Blow Them All To Pieces is unexpectedly soft and melodic considering its title and lyrical content, an acoustic guitar with all the treble knocked off, bolstered by a fat keyboard pad. A screaming tin whistle or some such pipe instrument threatens to overwhelm the music at the end, before the whole number drops like a stone, and we are into the angry, somewhat New Wave This Time (Is Gonna Be The Last Time). Simon’s singing style changes a little for this one, taking on a world-weary, monotonic Human League tone. Programme A finishes up with the 1½ minute Everything, which features just Suzy’s voice over ambient electronic chords.
Spoken word makes an appearance for a couple of numbers of Programme B, including the industrial opener Shine The Light On Me, which is sung as a duet. Minimal backing accompanies the slightly paranoid The Coat, recalling OMD or Yazoo, but Suzy’s vocal phrasing could have come straight from Jarvis Cocker and the Pulp songbook. Another one-minute interlude is provided by the ominous vocoder piece Mother, with lyrics so obscured as to be unintelligible, and then the whole package is topped off with the 6½ minute A Part Of Me Is Broken (Part Two). This starts off as an electronic pop-rocker, then drifts off into a spoken monologue that brings to mind Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds. Search in vain for a Part One, by the way.
The mixture of acoustic and electronic, electric guitars and fat synths, busy, complex production and minimalist treatments, ensures the listener is kept alert. I really enjoyed the audio segment of this multi-media presentation, and I haven’t even seen the visuals. Keep it coming, guys.