Starless & Bible Black - Shape of the Shape
Shape of the Shape is the second album from Mancunian collective Starless and Bible Black and this time they’ve kicked the banjos into touch, opting instead for the sound of the 70’s. The musicianship on this album is exquisite, and showcased perfectly by a warm, organic recording which derives from twilight sessions in the magical wilderness of Snowdonia. The music may have become more eclectic but everything on the album still rotates around the soulful vocal talent of Hélène Gautier who shimmers and smoulders throughout. The end result of this melding of talents is an album which is essentially timeless and which demands attention; this is a record to be savoured on those dark winter’s evenings ahead.
The album is gorgeous, it caresses the ears but there’s always a nagging feeling that the band are holding back from giving too much of themselves away. They are clearly well versed in musical history and seem to be magpies, tasteful yes but magpies nonetheless, picking at the carcass of the music of yesteryear to bring back the tastiest morsels to repackage and rehash. The album is beautiful but it is just too knowing, too expert in its references. Here’s a Rick Wright Moog sequence and there’s a Neil Young guitar lick but where are Starless & Bible Black in all this? What we are then left with is an album which could have been recorded at any point since 1970 and which lacks that fundamental element of innovation and personality from the performers which could make this an essential album.
The country tinged rock of the opening tracks ‘Say Donny Say’ and ‘Your Majesty Man’ is entertaining but unremarkable, save for the cautious and tasteful use of the Moog. These primitive yet enthralling electronic effects are used to even greater effect on the album’s tour-de-force ‘Les Furies’ which recreates the mood and sound of Wish You Were Here era Floyd while the melody line of ‘Within You Without You’ floats gently on the breeze. This is classic psychedelic rock music with a French twist and, talking of Ms Gautier, her vocal performance on ‘Radio Blues’ is quite incredible and is worth the price of admission alone. ‘Popty Ping’, as you might surmise from the ridiculous title, is the Starless & Bible Black take on the sound of Pentangle and is a warm, woody instrumental featuring some outstanding double bass lines. Shape of the Shape is comforting friend to add to the cd collection but it falls short of the greatness which must surely remain within their reach.