“Surely one of the busiest gigging outfits on the UK scene, something I can attest to as scarcely a week goes by without me adding to their burgeoning list of shows.” The opening remark in my review of The Blackheart Orchestra’s Mesmeranto, undertaken during the festive period of 2019. Not long after news started to emerge of a cruise liner, docked at Yokohama harbour, which had cases of SARS-CoV-2, and revealed fourteen deaths. You don’t need me to tell you how that news story panned out. So the busiest gigging outfit were confined to quarters, along with the rest of the UK and beyond.
I suppose like many, the initial thoughts were that it would ‘blow over’ in a few weeks. However, as we entered lockdown in March 2020 the full impact of this virus became very real. A familiar tale for the rest of 2020/21 therefore a new strategy was required for gigging/recording musicians, not just for financial reasons but also an outlet for the creative mind.
So, a rather long-winded intro to The Blackheart Orchestra’s Mute, released at the beginning of May. What was slightly puzzling, at first, was that Mute is an instrumental album. Hence the title, but those familiar with the duo will be acutely aware of the key role of the vocals within TBO’s sound. So how will Mute work without Chrissy Mostyn’s wonderful vocal contribution? Well, the simple answer is – very well.
First a little background to this release. TBO’s Rick Pilkington explains that Mute is an “album in between album’s album”. Due to their enforced hiatus, Chrissy and Rick decided to do a project where they chose their favourite tracks from the previous albums and then went about creating re-imaged instrumental versions. So Mute features the three previous TBO albums, Mesmeranto providing the greater part with five tracks, with three from both Diving For Roses (2017) and Songs From A Satellite (2013).
Prior to listening to Mute and thinking back to Mesmeranto, I remembered how intoxicating the music was, so in theory this should be a fascinating release. Cut to the chase and I really like what Rick and Chrissy have done to the tracks. Firstly, they retained the essence of the original, with the added bonus that some of the subtleties perhaps ‘lost’ in the original mixes become more evident. So across Mute they’ve pulled parts forward in the mix – and you end up thinking ‘that’s a great part, don’t remember that’. Elsewhere they bolstered tracks with additional instrumentation or with different sounds and textures. The end result makes Mute an absorbing listen.
To highlight just a few of these: Drown Me Out takes on a new lease altogether. The ‘disco’ beat is now propelled by martelé strings and with a lovely choral release into the choruses. The middle instrumental is neat too with a brief synth solo for good measure. An abridged version of Breathe allows for an extended guitar break, also neat. Albeit way too short, the orchestration on Back To Earth is simply stunning.
One of the stand out songs from Mesmeranto was All Of Me, a track I highlighted due to the effective use of quiet and space during the verses, allowing for a greater dynamic range in the choruses. The instrumental version doesn’t quite attain the magnitude of the original, however it’s a great arrangement and I particularly enjoyed the subtle changes, especially the ‘clarinet’. And finally the album closer, the gentle piano ballad Falling might seem a strange choice, however the piano part stands up very nicely in its own right, whilst the BIG outro provides the right foundation for the Lyndsey Buckingham styled solo.
Looking beyond the ‘pandemic years’ Rick and Chrissy have had “a hugely productive time” which surely must bode well for a new album? And with shows already announced it looks like TBO will be keeping the TPA Gig Guide busy once again – well assuming their van starts 😉
The “album in between album’s album” is therefore a compelling listen on so many levels, interesting to be able to dig deeper into the music, intriguing to hear new detail from the remixing and nuancing, but ultimately – Mute is a pleasure to listen too.
01. All Of Me (4:30)
02. Any Shade Of Blue (3:43)
03. Drown Me Out (2:51)
04. Rain On Me (3:26)
05. This Romance (2:45)
06. Hypnotize (6:59)
07. Good Weather (3:32)
08. In Another Lifetime (4:28)
09. Back To Earth (1:29)
10. Breathe (3:11)
11. Falling (4:25)
Total Time – 41:19
Chrissy Mostyn – Keyboards, Guitars
Rick Pilkington – Keyboards, Guitars, Bass, Percussion, Programming
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 7th May 2021