Once upon a time there was the largely blues-rock focused Starlite Campbell Band. Now there’s Starlite & Campbell - a minimalist bit of rebranding to introduce some new adventures in hi-fi from Suzy Starlite and Simon Campbell, reflecting different elements of their musical tastes. But bearing in mind some of the influences they mentioned in a Gimme 5 feature in these columns, such as Tom Yorke of Radiohead and Laurie Anderson, I approached Starlite.One with some trepidation.
Needn’t have worried though, really. Okay, so the sounds here aren’t always in my natural wheelhouse, but if the direction of travel is kinda art-proggy it’s never so outré as to be alienating. They still like to produce appealing melodies and hooks, and they know how to combine instruments combine to produce good sounds.
Opening track ‘Saving Me’ has a link to their past selves, as Campbell’s crooning, patient vocal recalls the title track of their last studio album, The Language Of Curiosity, and it has a penetrating little guitar motif to bring cutting edge to its undercurrent of throbbing bassline and Kraftwerkisch bubbling and bleeping synth sounds, as well as one of the aforementioned appealing melodies. And ‘The Voting Machine’ burbles along with motorik pulsing, augmented by washes of keyboards, and with injections of biting, twirling guitar themes. But this time the singer is Suzy Starlite, with her clear, pure English voice redolent of . . . who? Julie Covington, maybe?
Suzy’s vocal precision is also evident in the brief vignette that is ‘Everything’, with spot-on tuning and phrasing over minimalist keys. And she also takes the lead on ‘The Coat’, singing yearningly and hesitantly as she captures images and emotions from a relationship in the process of breaking-up, over a backing of tooting keys and little else, except some interpolations of atmospheric drums from Hugo Danin.
There’s a more naturalistic air to the elegiac ‘Blow Them All To Pieces’, with a soft and wistful vocal from Campbell over simple acoustic strumming and harmonium-like keys, before the strumming takes a different, appealing turn. With the addition of some Wakeman-esque twiddly synth it takes on a Yessy pastoral-meets-electronica vibe akin to, say, ‘Wondrous Stories’ – with added filigrees of flute. Campell then revisits his crooning mode on ‘This Time (Is Gonna Be The Last Time)’, but bending it into a Scott Walker-ish timbre (Walker being another avowed person of interest to the duo) over more squelching, shoulder-twitching synth rhythms, given extra urgency by crisp Danin drumming.
Danin’s drum elaborations also help to ground ‘Shine On The Light On Me’, a love song set to Ultravox-esque electro-bleeping, with patient harmonising from Suzy and Simon, spoken word reflections from the former, and occasionally corny lyrics about “Splendiferous isolation, you are my constellation”.
Another vignette in the form of ‘Mother’, in which spooky, sci-fi backing blends in Vocoder-like vocalisation effects doesn’t really do it for me. But the closing ‘A Part Of Me Is Broken (Part 2) is edgily convincing, with solid, brooding guitar work over a tripping, revolving drum rhythm and an undertow of keyboard machinations. Campbell’s guitar then gradually breaks free into some sturdy meditations, counterepointed by more swirling synths, until La Starlite adds some more spoken work musings about “memory eroded by dementia, replaced by the fallacy of eternal youth” and such-like. Whatever you say, Suzy – the important thing is that this is the strongest track on the album, stirring up vague echoes of Steve Hillage’s ‘The Glorious Om Riff’. Well, maybe. How about a cover of that in your live set, Suzy and Simon?
Starlite.One perhaps won’t fit the bill for some fans of the blues-leaning Starlite Campbell Band. But there’s mileage in these here explorations. Hop on board their spaceship, and see where it takes you.
Iain Cameron - Blues Enthused