Stargazing (Special Edition)
Alpha’s The Impossible Thrill was a splendid release in 2001. As overwrought as it was finely crafted, the desperate lyricism was exquisitely matched and balanced through the voices of three distinct singers. The tracks, less songs and more set pieces in an unreleased cinematic masterpiece, were character studies and explorations in loneliness and isolation. As difficult as it may be to believe, Alpha exceeded that high water mark with this 2003 release, now seeing domestic release with an altered tracklisting and some added tracks. Billed as Stargazing (Special Edition), the Bristol duo of Andy Jenks and Corin Dingley demonstrate once again why they are two of the finest songwriters around.
The additional tracks add little to the existing tracks that comprised the 2003 release, and serve more as a distraction than an asset. Yet, the crystalline production and lush arrangements overshadow any possible flaws and create a captivating environment in which a listener can lose him or herself. Here as before, the songwriters rely on the vocal talents of previous contributors Martin Barnard, Wendy Stubbs, Helen White and Kelvin Swaybe. Studied exercises in entropy and disintegration, the tracks mask sonic subtlety under a guise of sixties-styled crooning, retro chic and the cinematic palette of composers as diverse as John Barry and Jacques Brel. While Alpha is often contrasted against one of their foremost influences, songwriter Jimmy Webb, their considerable talents restrain their music and prevent it from descending into the emotional morass of syrupy pap or schmaltz. They retain clear eyes, and rightly understand that at the core of a classic pop song an element of despair always rests nestled within a memorable arrangement. Alpha’s skill is amply demonstrated in these sophisticated autumnal masterpieces.