What does it sound like?:
The Curator is Alistair Murphy. He is, literally, the curator at the Cromer Museum in Norfolk. He became fascinated with dinosaurs when he was seven and in his working life, he has fulfilled his childhood dream. Outside of work, he is a musician, singer, writer and producer and has worked with Terry Stamp of Third World War and Judy Dyble of Fairport Convention fame. Logic demands that his solo work is in that most dinosaur of genres, Prog, and so it proves.
He has amassed a fine set of musicians to support him. There are two drummers, one described as ‘involuntary’, Pat Mastelotto one-time of King Crimson,two guitars, backing vocalists, lashings of strings and horns, and, on one track, an oboe. Murphy, himself, sings lead, plays guitar and keyboards, arranges the strings and horns, produces and wrote all eight songs, getting assistance for just one of them. Where The Stars Will Give Way To Morning is undoubtedly a labour of love.
The sound is thick and dense, a mesh of over-ambition. Occasionally, a single instrument, a guitar or a horn, emerges and blinks in the spotlight. There is no room for noodling, but, as with most Prog, there is a complexity of time signatures and very little to hum. Hooks are few and far between, often carried by the horns or strings, but they are difficult to cling onto. There is nothing that could be described as a chorus. It’s analogue and old-fashioned. At times, Murphy’s voice resembles a grey Peter Gabriel in timbre, particularly that rasp when Gabriel is straining slightly for a note or for volume. His voice is at its best in the gentle moments, which occur more frequently as the album progresses, especially on Chloe, a tender apology song, where he barely sings at all, almost just speaking.
The lyrics thankfully don’t involve goblins or other such whimsical nonsense. They do, however, feel decades old with references to barricades, taverns, wolves and pirates. Refreshingly, they deal with present-day issues; austerity, relationships and conflicts. Murphy comes across as a very angry man. He’s ready to wage war with everyone, even the aforementioned Chloe. Suitably, for Prog music, the words are somewhat overwrought and there are lots of them. If they weren’t written down, it would be hard to decipher them. Even so, they demand a great deal of concentration simply to read.
Where The Stars Will Give Way To Morning does require the patience of repeated listens. The ear gets used to the texture of the voice and picks out accomplished musicianship with some delicate touches. It is even possible to discern elements of tunefulness. It Crackles (And It Spits) is revealed to have a spark of the fiery cacophony of King Crimson. Laurie A’Court’s horns on The River recall early Chicago. Walking Around The World (Albert’s Song) turns out to be a dance about an architect, Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer. The finale, Chloe, revisits Soft Machine’s Chloe And The Pirates.
Overall, however, despite the dedication, the hard work and the love poured into Where The Stars Will Give Way To Morning, there isn’t enough poetry, colour or drama in either the voice or the music for it to score higher than worthwhile.
What does it all *mean*?
Prog is a very difficult genre to pull off. Where The Stars Will Give Way To Morning is a valiant effort.
Goes well with…
Headphones. Prog is pretty much a solitary experience, is it not?
Might suit people who like…
Van Der Graaf Generator, a heavy Selling England By The Pound. Prog in all its manifestations, even without noodling.