The Blue Ship is a Scottish ensemble led by the instrumentally multi-talented composer and gifted singer Paul Napier. This is their first album, released last year on quality Italian avant-rock label AltrOck. On The Executioner’s Lover, a title right out of The Unthanks school of thought methinks, the band guides us through a modernistic variation of the world inhabited by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, with more than a passing nod to Jacques Brel. As they put it themselves with tongue no doubt planted firmly in cheek “The Blue Ship is a fluctuating and amorphous musical organism, born out of the blood and toil of wrecked dreams and hope…”, which gives you an idea of the thespian qualities inherent in this album, and is also a pointer to the fact that The Blue Ship do not take themselves too seriously.
The instrumentation, as you can see below, is dominated by the chamber orchestra set up, underpinned by the melodic bass of Simon Cottrell and the sympathetic guiding rhythms of drummer and percussionist Roy Shearer.
The music plays out a Threepenny Opera-styled thematic for the 21st century, with added occasional electric guitar, that when it fleetingly appears lends a spiky edge to proceedings, nowhere more so than on the cacophonous ending to The Horror. Centred on tight ensemble playing, there is however never a singular instrumental focus. Listening to the labyrinthine interweavings of all the instruments both acoustic and electric on the complex and involving The Breathing World, and indeed throughout is a joy.
The object of attention is always the voice of band leader and sole composer Paul Napier, for it is a wondrous thing. Occasionally almost operatic, sometimes declamatory, always emotional and dramatic it could be said that it is a cross between The Enid’s Joe Payne and Russell Mael. It could, but that does not really begin to describe it. Like something from another time, singing from the stage of a seedy and smoky nightclub in 1920s Paris, Paul intones his songs of love, loss, fear, defiance, and hope, aided on parts of tracks 7 and 11 by the words of James Joyce. That only serves to underline the strong literary undercurrent and the finely crafted storytelling within these zeros and ones. If I have one gripe, it is that these songs deserved to have the lyrics included in a booklet, but I suppose that was down to budgetary considerations.
The theatrical nature of the album is summed up by the deliciously hammy The Parting Of The Ways. If this band ever play live, if they don’t appear in costume I would feel most dischuffed! More thespian flourishes are apparent in the raucous high-kicking finale to Something To Hide From Each Other, and it has to be said that The Executioner’s Lover has “stage show” written all over it.
The second CD, given the album title, is devoid of vocals, percussion, or electric instrumentation and is as far removed from rock music as can be, being nothing more or less that a 20 minute piece for chamber orchestra. Not everyone’s cup of tea I’m sure, but it makes a nice change.
A definite departure for AltrOck, albeit keeping a connection to their avant sensibilities by dint of the chamber orchestra, The Executioner’s Lover is a rare thing; an album that cannot be pigeonholed. That maybe the reason why, despite the album having been out for some time, there seem to be very few if any reviews out there, which is a shame as truly unique music such as this deserves the oxygen of publicity. It is an alternative jaunt to an entirely different place from the norm.
01. Half Life (3:59)
02. Love Everlasting (6:17)
03. The Breathing World (4:54)
04. Out Of The Stars And Into The Sand (8:48)
05. The Parting Of The Ways (7:45)
06. The Horror (7:45)
07. Something To Hide From Each Other (5:29)
08. Blood And Guts (5:31)
09. Aging Madonna (4:52)
10. They Know Not What They Do (4:34)
11. An Impossible Task (6:59)
Total Time – 66:50
The Executioner’s Lover:
01. What Boiling Arms Of Whales And Babes (5:31)
02. The Victim (3:05)
03. The Winds That Drug The Farm (4:34)
04. The Moon Stops Speaking (6:00)
Total Time – 19:12
Paul Napier – Vocals, Guitar, Piano & Mellotron
Ross Fleming – Accordion
Simon Cottrell – Bass
Roy Shearer – Drums & percussion
Aaron McGregor – Violin
Daniel Patterson – Violin
Robert Anderson – Cello (1-11)
Emma Peebles – Viola (1-11)
David Munn – Cello (12)
Charlotte Penketh – Viola (12)
Tim Quick – Trumpet
Martin Fell – Alto Sax
Scott Murphy – Tenor Sax
Geoff Allen – Pops & Saw
Record Label: AltrOck
Catalogue#: ALT 044
Year Of Release: 2014