Monday, November 1, 2021

Starlite Campbell Band - The Language Of Curiosity

They’re a bit bonkers, I think.  Bonkers about each other, and bonkers about making the kind of music they love, the way they want to make it.  And long may Suzy Starlite and Simon Campbell be that way.  Their debut album, Blueberry Pie, was a wonderful surprise that landed in my lap nearly five years ago now.  And happily, The Language Of Curiosity is similarly appealing.
They ease into proceedings with ‘Distant Land’, the whomping backbeat from drummer Steve Gibson backed up by crunching chords, and decorated by spiralling lead guitar lines from 
The Starlite Campbell Band - ready to rock!
Campbell.  There’s a melodic bridge – they do like to do something different with a bridge - and a guitar solo that buzzes and flutters like a bee hot on the trail of nectar.  It’s catchy too – but not as much as the following ‘Gaslight’, which rides a riff that’s so Stonesy it’s coated in brown sugar, en route to a shout-it-out chorus.  It has pointed lyrics about blowhard political liars too, and some razor-sharp slide guitar fills along the way.  And the first single from the album, 'Stone Cold Crazy', has a tough strut of a fuzzy riff,  coming over like one of Purple's lighter moments.  A bit.
These tunes may reaffirm their devotion to Sixties British blues and early Seventies British rock, but it ain’t nuthin’ compared to the wig-out they deliver halfway through the album.  ‘Said So’ stomps all over the riff from ‘You Really Got Me’, then mashes it together with a snippet of the melody from The Temptations’ ‘Get Ready’.  After belting along breathlessly for a couple of verses they downshift into a contemplative bridge.  And then, my friends, they stamp on the gas pedal, the bass’n’drums of Suzy Starlite and Steve Gibson start racing each other, and Campbell goes nuts on a wild, distorted solo, tearing down the road like an F1 car.  They find the brakes, just, for another verse or so, and the whole thing shudders to a halt to the accompaniment of some Jon Lord-style Hammond B3 doodling by Jonny Henderson.
But rockin’ it up is not, stylistically, the be-all and end-all of The Language Of Curiosity, no sirree.  For one thing, Suzy Starlite was a folk-rock singer before she learned to crank out a bass guitar groove, and on ‘It Ain’t Right’ she delivers the dreamy melody in blissed-out fashion, over pattering drums, acoustic guitar strumming, and simple, warm piano chords.  Hell, there’s even a wordless harmonised passage that sounds handed down from the Mamas and Papas.  And if the closing ‘Ride On Cowboy’ evolves from a metronomic kick drum to a four-on-the-floor funky
A little bit bonkers, a whole lotta rock'n'roll
vibe, all grooving bass, chirping guitar and Fender Rhodes frills, her vocal is English rose rather than sassy soul siren – except when her other half breaks out a sizzling solo and she gets all breathy and sexy in the background.  And the title track is a real curve ball, which kicks off injangly post-punk pop fashion redolent of ‘Echo Beach’, the two of them harmonising in lock-step, before taking a left turn into Campbell crooning like Midge Ure dancing with tears in his eyes over washes of keys.  And if that sounds mad, it’s still a bum-wiggling little winner.
Other highlights are in a more reflective vein, most impressively on ‘Take The Time To Grow Old’, where a ‘Dear Prudence’ guitar motif combines with sustained organ chords and tinkling piano chords, while Campbell sings about defying the dying of the light.  It’s a post-Beatles pop-rock ballad that could easily con its way into Johnnie Walker’s Sounds of the Seventies radio show, and it’s topped off by a big, ultra-fuzzy guitar solo.  ‘Lay It Out On Me’, meanwhile, is a more melancholy affair, with a ruminative bass line and delicate piano while Campbell drifts between Peter Green and Dave Gilmour stylings with some spare, almost whispered guitar work.
Simon Campbell seems like a walking encyclopaedia of classic British axe heroes.  But overall his guitar sound is his own, and it’s remarkable that he eschews effects pedals in search of it.  Just as importantly though, The Language Of Curiosity is about well-constructed songs, about infectious melodies and worthwhile words, and the couple’s co-writing fulfils those ambitions with a bit of flair.  The Starlite Campbell Band’s bonkers devotion to their musical muse has produced another crop of goodies.

The Language Of Curiosity is released on 5 November, and can be ordered here (though the vinyl edition may not be available till 2022).

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