For their latest release the husband and wife team of Suzy Starlite & Simon Campbell have taken things in a very different direction to their previous Starlite Campbell Band releases. The pairs band output (Blueberry Pie – 2017 and The Language Of Curiosity – 2021) placed them firmly in the R&B camp with their 60’s, Kinks, Rolling Stones, Beatles influences which were dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty first century especially on their two live albums appropriately titles Live! and Live! 2. 2023 however finds the multi-instrumental duo seeking out something altogether different.
Starlite.One is a nine track concept piece moving in a much more art/progressive rock direction, lead by the use of analogue synthesisers besides the usual rock guitar riffs. Mixed for vinyl the album is designed to be played as two distinct sections, Programme A then Programme B without breaks. According to the press pack “It started in a dream with the rescue of six monkeys from the perils of an alien frond that was plotting to kill them in their home under the stairs” which is the opening line to the story of Starlite.One (a spaceship) which then traces the mission of the crew to rescue the said monkeys from their viny enemies. This may sound a little “out there” but they use this tale to address the challenges of a modern world (dementia, elections, religion, warfare etc.) as well as referencing the love story which has driven Starlite and Campbell since 2013.
Starlite’s pulsing bass and Campbell’s highly charged guitar are the key features from the outset of ‘Saving Me’ with jangly guitar and third member Hugo Danin’s pounding rhythms being carried on top of its almost disco beat. Starlite plays a much larger part vocally on harmonies as well as supplying lead vocals on tracks like the staccato ‘The Voting Machine’, the short but sweet ‘Everything’ and ‘The Coat’ where a soft Toyah vibe is surrounded by the bands 80’s electronic framework. Elsewhere acoustic guitar and the sound of strings take a more thoughtful journey on ‘Blowing Them All To Pieces’ a Moody Blues style lament triggered by the Russian troops occupation of Ukraine which adds another texture. With influences jumping through the decades ‘This Time (Is Going To Be The Last Time)’ screams Human League/OMD as it bounces with a jaunty synthesiser mood. Campbell even drop his vocal to a lower register to aid the 80’s comparisons which highlights that periods impact on the modern progressive rock scene within an ode to modern love. That hold continues with ‘Shine The Light On Me’ where glorious dual harmonies abound alongside the Gary Numan deep drones before pursuing a more melodic/prog rock path with Starlite playing the part of a jilted AI lover during her narrated refrain. ‘Mother’ acts as a link to the concluding (and longest at just over six minutes) track ‘A Part Of Me Is Broken (Part Two)’ where they tread a more familiar route with the synth hooks laying below the baritone guitar yet occasionally breaking through with more Numanesqe keyboard pulses. With ‘A Part Of Me Is Broken (Part Two)’ Danin (drums) comes very much to the fore and it encapsulates everything the key pair have tried to achieve with this release. Starlite & Campbell really did leave the best till last.
A potted history of Starlite & Campbell would probably display a tale of effort not necessarily being rewarded with the success it deserved. They obviously put their hearts and souls into everything they produce as well as the promotion of their art. Starlite.One is no exception to this but whether it will see an appropriate rise in their stature or possibly alienate some of their previous audience is yet to be seen. After numerous listens I believe that this change in trajectory at least deserve your attention. Whatever happens welcome on board the Starlite.One.
Peter Brockwell - The Midlands Rocks