Review:'STORM THE PALACE' 'Snow, Stars & Public Transport'
- Label: 'Abandoned Love Records'
- Genre: 'Pop'
- Release Date: '12th May 2017'
"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars" - Oscar Wilde, from Lady Windermere's Fan, A Play About A Good Woman (1892).
A gutter's eye view of the stars might be putting it too strongly, but the ten songs on this record do seem to express a yearning for hope and joy in defiance of the mundane realities of daily life.
The urban narrative that runs through Storm The Palace's debut album has been nine years in the making. Singer/guitarist Sophie Dodds wrote the tunes while living in London although she has since returned to her home town of Edinburgh.
The public transport reference in the title is due to the fact that they were often composed on buses or trains to become what she calls an "unintentional concept album". One song, for instance, is called DLR Dreaming after the Docklands Light Railway.
The talented backing band of Anglo-Scottish musicians she has assembled along the way are Reuben Taylor (accordion and piano), Pippa Murdle (mandolin, backing vocals) with Gordon Webster and Sam Wilkinson on drum and bass respectively.
Their melodic and elegant arrangements have led to the band being labelled as 'urban folk' or 'baroque pop' and the sound falls midway between these arbitrary categorizations.
The cover image and the subject matter of the songs suggest that Dodds views the world in black and white terms. Far from yearning for sunshine and light, you imagine her gaining perverse pleasure from snowy days or grey, overcast skies. The overriding atmosphere is that of cold terraced houses far removed from the palaces she and her band might still one day storm..... come the revolution!
Her stagy vignettes would be more suited to a modest fringe venue rather than in a glitzy West End show. Not coincidentally, the surreal animated video for The Moon Above Villiers Street (by artists Robert Powell and Jenny Paine) opens and closes with a theatre curtain.
In this song the setting is very specifically located in the heart of London between the Strand and Embankment near Charing Cross. From here, thoughts of stars are peripheral to "the rush and crush" of the commuters while a reference to "The politics of envy, the politics of greed" unambiguously lambastes the narrow-minded thinking of these citizens.
This song confirms that Dodds' muse does not inhabit green spaces or dwell in luxurious homes. The inauspicious setting for La Lido is about as exotic as it gets although paradoxically this only arouses suicidal thoughts rather than any expectation of having fun.
A title such Cadillacs And Carousels may sound like someone contemplating some indulgent free time activities but you can't really imagine Ms Dodds being at ease in a showy car or on a merry-go-round.
Despite an overriding mood of melancholy and disillusionment there is nevertheless an implicit determination to find something meaningful, even romantic, from her mundane surroundings. "I know that I should soldier on" she sings in Go Home but it's plain that merely putting on a brave face on things goes against the grain.
Her song writing style is the opposite of confessional, preferring to express her emotions through metaphors or abstract imagery. The tone of Nadir is vaguely venomous but the cause and object of the rage is not made clear. In an interview in Vents magazine she said "Some of these songs are way too personal to explain in any depth".
The album closes with Little Rituals a wistful piano ballad with an lilting orchestral instrumental coda and concluding with a field recording of a train grinding to a halt.
This fine album fulfills the promise raised by the band's sublime 'In Ruins' EP from 2015 and, while at 38 minutes it's all too brief, these sounds from the city still manage to be both poetic and poignant.
Anyone demanding greater length or profundity should be directed to Bette Davis' closing line from the 1942 movie 'Now, Voyager': "Don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars".