Purson - The Circle And The Blue Door
It may be the cynic in me growing up too fast, but the buzz of excitement surrounding the unearthing of a fabulous new band has grown ever rarer and dimmer as the years have passed. More and more these bright young things don’t seem quite so sparkly. So it's all the more euphoric to find a band that does inspire a childish gleefulness, rekindling that sense you have discovered something really special - with that slightly smug feeling you've got there before anyone else. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Purson.
Your correspondent came across these fresh-faced youngsters opening for doom legends Pentagram back in December 2011, where in the space of five minutes they turned me from a grumpy, tired hack wishing for a nice ale and a soft sofa to enthralled acolyte gravitating down towards the pit barrier. And I wasn't the only one drawn to the front of the hall as Rosalie Cunningham and her cohorts weaved their magic over a dreary Friday night London crowd, their blend of folk, doom and psychedelic madness transporting us all to the proggy heydays of the 1970s.
Ever since that amazing night we've been eagerly awaiting the debut album like a child on Christmas Eve. The 7" single 'Rocking Horse' teased us last April, but precious little has been forthcoming until now. The time has arrived to be able to sink into The Circle And The Blue Door. But with expectations so astronomically high, could it ever possibly live up to all those expectations? It is a difficult question to answer. The record brings a smile to my face every time I stick it on, but then it is not the perfect, mind-blowing opus I prayed for. Still, listening to and dissecting the album rationally, I do like what I find.
The Circle And The Blue Door is meticulously crafted in a classic 70s style, and not just in terms of the music, but the structure of the record as a piece too. Starting off with a beguiling intro, it launches into two rocking, full-blooded numbers before bringing the tempo back down. Of the more frenetic tracks, 'Spiderwood Farm' immediately stands out as an early favourite. With a makeover since the first version from a couple of years ago, it encapsulates all the reasons why Purson have come to the fore in the last 18 months as the brilliant, melodic yet heavy riffs create a bedrock for Cunningham to steal your heart with her gorgeous vocals. It may lack some of the power and grandeur of the live version but its charm remains intact.
Lead single 'Leaning On A Bear' injects some pace into the middle of the album with its infectious groove and surrealist overtones, but it is the following number that, in time, steals the show. A slow burner that does not stand up and shout about itself, 'Tempest And The Tide' is arguably The Circle...'s finest moment. Straying deep into folk rock territory, it is a nigh-on perfect blend of sweet vocals, nostalgic mellotron and wistful guitars all wrapped up in this melodious, uplifting gem of a song. It might not be in the heavy, doomy vein of 70s rock that Purson have made their name and which most of the rest of the album draws upon, but you can't keep a good song down, and it certainly does not feel out of place.
'Mavericks And Mystics' has quickly established itself as a live favourite, and sees the album turn back towards the sound Purson started with. Yet despite its popularity, this cheeky little number is soon surpassed by the frankly bonkers 'Well Spoiled Machine' and the even better 'Sapphire Ward', both dizzying mixes of yet more offbeat lyrics and electrifying guitar work. This knack of knife-edge balancing between poppy catchiness and metallic heaviness is rare in a band with decades of experience, let alone a troupe still finding their feet.
The old school structure of The Circle And The Blue Door continues right to the end as it winds down with that post-midnight vibe, aided and abetted by that most 70s of guitar sounds, the wonderfully psychedelic phaser. The return of 'Rocking Horse' with its brilliantly nostalgic lyrics "In our own secret garden we play / I the spider, you the fly /... and when paper money / Was less than exciting / And yet coins were inviting / Like silver suns" gives way to 'Tragic Catastrophe'. Probably the weakest track on the record, and certainly the least memorable, it has that air of closure around it that calmly brings you back to reality with a gentle bump.
Simply put, The Circle And The Blue Door rocks. With all the pressure and hype surrounding Purson in the build-up, they have delivered a truly great album. It might have its flaws and idiosyncrasies, but it has been a very, very long time since I encountered a debut as vibrant, energetic and expertly shaped. Questions will inevitably begin to surface as to whether this is a one-off, or if they can grow and learn from the experience to establish themselves over the longer term. But that is for the far future, now is the time to just sit back and enjoy this little journey to an alternative past for what it is, a damn fine record. Better dust off the turntable...