Monday, 20 May 2013
Top 102 Albums⁺ No 3. Speak Slowly
Top 102 Albums⁺ No 3.
Speak Slowly - The Stars of Heaven
"This is not a holiday, there are no Honky Tonks
The unknown jukebox with a few country songs
We drink wine as cheap as Hollywood and talk about the day
You pointed at the signpost that read 'our separate ways'"
Other than the couple of bands I was involved with there is no band I have seen more than The Stars of Heaven and yet I still regret all the gigs I could have gone to but didn't. In mid eighties Dublin they struck me with the force of a revelation. Seeing a band this good in small venues dotted around Dublin (The Underground, Sides, McGonagles, The New Inn, Hawkins House) was, and seemed like, a privilege. That the promoter (Smiley Bolger) had to get on the stage and ask the small crowd to buy drinks for the band after a Christmas 'fundraiser' gig tells that that privilege wasn't always appreciated. Won't somebody out there please upload a live recording?
This list of my favourite music is populated with music that I was introduced to by The Stars of Heaven. Gram Parsons, Richard Thompson, Big Star, Neil Young, The Byrds - their passions were expressed in cover versions and on some occasions personal recommendations. When alt-country reared it's head I realised pretty quickly that I had seen the best of it, years before.
Their first single was Clothes of Pride, which I discovered retrospectively. It was a favourite of John Peel and the session they did for him would provide the backbone of their next release, For years there was a display of many copies of it's minimalist sleeve in Dublin's lynchpin record store of the time, Freebird Records, then at the foot of Grafton Street. My copy had no sleeve and I often intended to steal one but never did.
The closest The Stars of Heaven came to mainstream success, if I'm not mistaken, was when the king of Irish daytime radio, Larry Gogan, (if it's not the drugs affecting my memories) played the title track of their mini-album Sacred Heart Hotel regularly. It stood out on daytime radio, but the The Stars stood out in any company. It captures wonderfully the sense of late afternoon pints watching life pass by as the light slowly seeps from the sky. This mini-album was made into a full album by the later addition of the follow up Before Holyhead E.P. which included the fabulous Widow's Walk.
So when their first 'proper' album hit the shops I was well primed. It is a great experience to put on an album and already know the tracks from hearing them live. The thrill of the new and the thrill of recognition are joined together. And then there was the knowledge that this was not just a good record but a great record, the one you had known they could make but there is always the fear that potential will not mix well with vinyl.
"The stench of solitude / multiplied by two, / and I remember my life with you.
What evidence I have to hand / suggests that I loved you. / What a foolish thing to do!
When you don’t love the one you’re with, / and the one you love is gone,
you’d better smile / or she’ll ask you / “what’s wrong?”
The album is soaked in melancholy like a beermat on a late night pub table. Relationships and their aftermaths form the core of the lyrical concerns. The music is restrained, stately, melodic and often country hued, stays simple but I can hear orchestras in my head. There is a purity at the heart of the record, good intentions may have gone awry but their intentions still remain good, and they smile through the melancholy.
I can't do a standout tracks on this as I love it as one piece but here are brief scribbles.
Unfinished Dreaming - A bit of Stones like swagger to start it off.
Little England - Near neighbours, "a thousand miles away."
What Else Could You Do - "You called me half alive/ with half a smile and half a frown" "I recall every wall of fire you put me through"
Paradise of Lies - The Grand ol' Opry tune.
2 O'Clock Waltz - If Morrissey & Marr had recorded this it would have generated acres of print, as would many of these songs.
28 - Left with a facsimile of love, making the best of heartbreak.
Lights of Tetouan - "never say your good luck isn't there" The Stars go Mediterranean but it still sounds very like Dublin.
Leave as You Came - Beautiful swirling melodies as a failed relationship fails again. "it only took you this long to find trouble again"
Every Other Day - "Every other girl looked fine in theory / but any other heart left me wide and weary / with every other word you throw me away / But we get by every other day" "a cloak of darkness stitched with stars that let us lie immune." This time its still in the present tense, but melancholy still reigns.
Three Kings Day - Christmas, emigrants home for a few days and knowing that they weren't coming back for more than a few days, ever. Is there a little bit of anger under the melancholy? Is there a girl behind it? Perhaps. "Set the clock for half past eight / Some of us have to work, she said"
Ghost Cars - Late night, it's all over, bar the early morning bar.
"Imagine waking unaware
The light of heaven touched your hair
Morning struggled sun was here and gone
Born into empty air the signals changed the engines flared
There's a place you know I'm always there"