Sunday, July 11, 2010

Marc Almond - Varieté

Marc Almond's been touting his new album as both his first full-length of original material since 2001's Stranger Things, and his last original ever. Sadly, it's a somewhat maudlin trawl through well-trodden territory - many of the songs here have a superior and direct analog from earlier in his career. It's a better and more consistent effort than Stranger Things, but it's missing the verve, the passion and frequently the tunes of classics like Vermin In Ermine and Mother Fist, the latter in particular a fine example of how to cover some of this lyrical territory with verve and fire.

Almond's often written and sung brilliant character studies, but much of Varieté sounds autobiographical, and it's a little sad to hear him leave the stage with head so low in "Swan Song", in the same way that I've grown tired of hearing him criticize his considerable songwriting ability in recent interviews. There are moments of passion and vigor; the title track (below) is a glam stomp with tongue firmly in cheek, particularly during a cheeky mid-song incorporation of Tainted Love's rhythm and synth hook, and the strings of "Najinsky Heart" swoon and swell like something off The Stars We Are, but much of this is laced with a mawkish, self-pitying sentimentality that's out of character - the early run of "The Exhibitionist", "Trials of Eyeliner" and "Lavender" is particularly turgid, the tone not helped by some of the clumsiest lyrics Almond's committed to record.

It's not a terrible album by any means, and suffers in part from its length – the mood and quality would be improved by the simple act of cutting it down from 16 to 12 tracks (see also 1996's Fantastic Star) – but it's generally missing that crucial Almond spirit. The man's a legitimate institution and a fucking star – he should be stamping around the stage like one, and too often on Varieté he's weeping in the wings instead. Strangely depressing. 3/5

A limited edition comes with a bonus disc of seven non-album tracks where, strangely, Almond seems happier and more at ease than on most of the album. Several of these are stronger than much of Varieté proper, reinforcing the notion that the project overall could have benefited from a slightly more rigorous editing job.

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