As lead singer with The Bluetones, Mark Morriss has been a part of some of my favourite memories from my days as a student living in Edinburgh. ‘Cut Some Rug’, ‘Slight Return’, ‘Marblehead Johnson’ and ‘Bluetonic’ all stand out as classics of the Britpop era and the quality of both songwriting and performance leave them sounding as vibrant and fresh today as they did around 18 years ago.
So this, along with how much I enjoyed Mark’s 2008 solo album, Memory Muscle, left me eagerly anticipating this week’s release of his latest long player, A Flash of Darkness.
It’s always great when you get your hands on an album that’s slipped out relatively quietly and it’s an absolute treat. That’s what has happened here. Building on Memory Muscle‘s folky feel, but bringing back in some more of the indie influence, Mark has put together a gentle and slightly melancholic pop album.
The opener, title track ‘A Flash of Darkness’, immediately evokes thoughts of Ennio Morricone and his famous spaghetti western soundtracks alongside Mark’s instantly recognisable vocals. ‘Consuela’ is up next and sees Mark in remarkably chipper mood for someone who is breaking up with the titular young lady. A catchy toe-tapper about a relationship break-up really establishes the melancholic pop feel I mentioned earlier. This is followed by the gentle, folksy ‘Guilty Again’. Almost reminiscent of Harry Nilsson’s ‘Everybody’s Talkin” at times, it has a lovely swing to it. Next track, ‘It’s Hard To Be Good All The Time’ is probably my favourite track on the album. A slow, brooding start evolves into a punchiness that I love.
Next up is a cover of The Shins’ ‘Pink Bullets’. Not a song, nor to be honest, a band I’m familiar with. Without having heard the original, this seems to be decent enough version – not overly exciting but a nice wee sax solo is something you don’t hear much of these days. ‘Low Company’ is the first track that really harks back to the Bluetones sound. A slight nod to ‘Sleazy Bed Track’ I would say and none the worse for it. It has an ominous, dark, smokey club feel to it. Onto the much poppier and lighter ‘Life Without F(r)iction’ and the mood has lightened considerably. Upbeat and uptempo, it’s a welcome change of pace.
The introspective ‘This Is The Lie (And That’s The Truth)’ leads us into the home straight. A simple, pared-back tune and I wonder if, lyrically, it’s a reaction to touring and being away from family. A cracking wee song though. ‘Space Cadet’ is a quirky love song, veering back again into the cheerier pop territory but without going as far as the throwaway, bubblegum variety. ‘Nightcall’ brings the tempo back down again, a gentle yet passionate feel to it. Album closer, ‘Sleep Song’ has a sound and feel somewhere between Pink Floyd and the Bluetones again. A quality track to finish off an outstanding album.
I’m off tonight to see Mark do his thing at The Admiral in Glasgow – a full band set indeed, with strong rumours floating round that the rest of the band are going to be his former Bluetones colleagues. This is part of this weekends Glasgow Dirty Weekender, featuring amongst others, Musicscramble favourites Tijuana Bibles and a host of other acts throughout the city. Check out the poster below for line up and dates as well as the dates for the rest of Mark’s solo tour.
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