Marc Almond – Chaos and a Dancing Star (Album Review)

Popularity is one thing, but prolificacy, or abundant productivity, is what really gives longevity and sustenance to the career of any artist. David Bowie was a prime example of this – who left the world in 2016 with a legacy of 27 studio albums in a more-than-half-a-century-spanning career. Then there are his successors in this aspect such as Marc Almond.

Born on July 9th, 1957, in Southport, Lancashire, England, Almond first came to prominence in 1981, when the debut album of the duo he was in—Soft Cell—catapulted to the charts, led by the successful singles, now classics “Tainted Love” and “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye.”

A creatively restless spirit, Almond engaged in various collaborative projects starting in 1982 alongside his activities with Soft Cell. He then soon embarked on a solo career that has proven to be fruitful and enduring, releasing in 1984 Vermine in Ermine—his first proper solo record—and following this up in the decades that ensued with not less than 20 albums more, the latest of which was the freshly released Chaos and a Dancing Star.

Released on January 31st, 2020, via BMG Rights Management Records, Almond’s 22nd solo album came on the heels of his 2015’s all-original set The Velvet Trail (“Pleasure’s Wherever You Are”) and 2017’s covers album Shadows and Reflections (“The Shadow of Your Smile”).

Glazed with the ’60s Cabaret Pop sensibilities of its predecessor, Chaos and a Dancing Star opens dramatically with the slow, piano-led, Vaudeville-befitting ballad “Black Sunrise,” which ends unexpectedly in an anthemic Glam Metal-stylized guitar ad-lib. Closing his eyes, the listener can imagine glamorous Almond’s pacing on the theater’s stage. The glittery lights then fade out slowly and the tempo slides down with “Hollywood Forever,” which interestingly ends also in a similar virtuosic guitar postlude. Two more sentimental ballads employing the same instrument as the main vehicle then follow next: “Chevrolet Corvette Stingray,” whose scathing line “’Coz I’ve never been in love with a narcissistic sociopath like you” will definitely earn the nod of the satire-smith himself—Morrissey (“We Hate It when Our Friends Become Successful”); and the more serious one, “Dust,” which starts as a Lounge Pop mode and then builds up into a full setup graceful stomper.

Almond then struts with his sequined fedora as he delivers something upbeat and sophisticated, “Slow Burn Love”—the album’s lead single; it will fit well on a playlist that includes relatively new releases such as ABC’s “Singer Not the Song,” Tony Hadley’s “Every Time,” and Rick Astley’s “Angels on My Side.” The ensuing angular guitar-spiced “Fighting a War” further takes the listener to Sophisti-Pop/Rock realm, as well as the equally ecstatic and soaring sentiments of “Cherry Tree,” which has a short Baroque Pop ending. Afterwards, “Chaos” then pulsates its rhythm with a smooth swagger and simple sadness. As the beat of this track breezes away, the soft nostalgic waves of “Dreaming of Sea” then touch the listener’s yearning heart (“I always thought I lived the charmed life / Solitary in a lonely world”); it may remind the initiated of the similarly rustling leaves of PM’s “Moonlight over Paris,” Johnny Hates Jazz’s “Different Seasons,” Fra Lippo Lippi’s “Beauty and Madness,” and Nik Kershaw’s “So Quiet.”

Another heartrending, mid-tempo expression, “When the Stars Are Gone” will then surely melt the heart of anyone who dreams of returning to one’s glorious yesteryears. The Noir-inspired, Blue-eyed Soul “Giallo” then sends the listener further down the warm leather couch in one corner of the dim-lit lounge. The flute-adorned penultimate track, “Lord of Misrule,” is an exotic, Gaelic-flavored sonic delicacy.

Finally, Almond closes his new—another well-conceived—theatrical masterpiece with the playful, slightly progressive, appropriately orchestrated, and beautifully titled “The Crow’s Eyes Have Turned Blue,” which will pass as a song from a Disney film soundtrack. Brilliant!

Many artists who came before and after him fed on the energy facilitated by the Internet’s having connected the world as one. Almond’s endurance, however, has been fueled chiefly instead by his own passion for songwriting, collaborating with fellow musicians, and performing onstage. At 62, the “Bittersweet” crooner has no sign of slowing down. Chaos and a Dancing Star is only the beginning of Almond’s recalibrated trajectory for the new decade. Almond may be waving hello, but is certainly not yet ready to say goodbye. That is why Cryptic Rock gives Chaos and a Dancing Star 4 out of 5 stars.

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