Chaos And A Dancing Star renews Marc’s association with producer and co-writer, fellow Northerner Chris Braide. The result is a very productive collaboration with an interesting mix of dark ballads, bright pop and the occasional nod to their joint love of prog rock. Braide worked on Almond’s 2015 album The Velvet Trail and has established himself in the US working with the likes of Lana Del Rey, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, and Britney Spears
The recurring themes of the album are mortality and impermanence. Opening track Black Sunrise contemplates how life could continue with the loss of a loved one, although light shines through, at the end, with a soaring guitar solo by David Colquhoun (Rick Wakeman Band, Ozzy Osbourne, Downes Braide Association).
Almond went to Los Angeles to work with Braide, taking inspiration from his surroundings. Chevrolet Corvette Stingray unemotionally reflects a fetish for classic American cars. Hollywood Forever is a clever take on a day in the immortal life of the Hollywood greats of the past, referencing the famous cemetery to the stars from which the song takes its name. Braide’s understated piano adds a reverence to Almond’s tender vocal delivery.
“I’ve really come to love this decaying side of old Hollywood in Los Angeles,” says Almond. “There’s a very dark side, a very dark history as well. Beneath this utopian fantasticness of sunshine and beautiful people there’s also this underlying darkness of decay. I find that quite appealing and inspiring to write about.”
The lead single from the album Slow Burn Love provides light amongst the darkness. Powered by Almond’s joyous lead vocal, the track captures the most pop-leaning side of his eclectic songwriting ability. Expressing hope of finding an ever-lasting love rather than one that’s “over before you blink your eyes,”Slow Burn Love is a positive counterpoint to the themes of romantic disappointment that have often inspired his lyrics.
Dreaming Of Sea is an atmospheric and reflective ballad about the search for freedom. Braide’s production is exquisite and the mood is enhanced with a beautiful string arrangement by long-term collaborator Martin McCarrick.
Jethro Tulllegend Ian Anderson guests on the upbeat Lord Of Misrule adding a playful flute as Almond’s sings of a dramatic collision of apocalypse and seasonal festivities. “It’s probably fair to say that I wrote Lord of Misrule with Ian in mind,” Almond notes, “as I’ve always thought there was a touch of pagan mischief about him. It’s a kind of alternative Christmas song.”
The album title plays on a quote from Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra: “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” Essentially, art, music and creative expression comes from personal experiences of repression or turmoil. It’s a statement that has informed everything that Almond crafts, and one that he wants placed on his gravestone.
Musically, Chaos And A Dancing Star steps beyond the ‘60s songbook that inspired Shadows and Reflections. It changes tone at will. There are flourishes of theatrical and flamboyant flair (Fighting A War), but there are also moments of foreboding (When The Stars Are Gone and Cherry Tree), gothic ambience (the extremely dark Giallo), tender yearning and classic pop-infused songwriting (Chaos). It comes to a head in the closing track The Crows Eyes Have Turned Blue.
“I wanted to write romantic apocalyptic love songs and set the songs in the fatal end of days settings with a touch of mystic paganism, yet hopelessness,” Almond explains. “It reflects the out-of-kilter world in which we find ourselves living today. Crows are a symbolic recurring theme on this record. When their eyes turn blue their life is coming to an end. Maybe it is the end of days for all of us, and perhaps this is something we should acknowledge. It’s an ending, but one that opens up the next chapter.”
Chaos And A Dancing Star is available from 31 January on CD and vinyl LP formats from BMG.
Marc Almond and Chris Braide will play their first show together at the Royal Festival Hall, London, on 10 February. It promises to be a special event which will cover some of Almond’s most loved tracks, songs which Braide has written for other artists, material from the new album and some special guest appearances. Any remaining tickets are available from www.southbankcentre.co.uk