[Release date 03.17]
With gothic cover art make-up and parental advisory labelling I was expecting something angular and edgy from the debut release by Alive In Theory – a Manchester based duo comprising of song writer and singer Kirsty Mac, and multi-instrumentalist Paul Ayre. What I didn’t expect was humungous slice of classic post 80′s electronic pop.
Decent adult orientated pop albums are something sadly missing from today’s marketplace. But Alive In Theory have addressed that balance with Abandon – 11 well-crafted songs, performed with gusto and charm. 20 years ago it would have spawned several Top 10 singles and been a best seller. Today, I’m not so sure. Most people are too glued to their Twitter and Facebook feeds to care about a decent ‘tune’.
The self-titled opener ‘Alive In Theory’ – a slice of post Human League/Ultravox synth driven symphonic pop sets the scene, followed by ‘Bethany’ – a Mike Chapman-era Benatar meets Meatloaf piece, and ‘Unconditional’ – a Yazoo-era synth driven number with Mac’s vocals carrying the melody in a style that marries elements of both Benatar and Madonna.
In fact, several numbers are reminiscent of classic-era Madonna – the shimmering multi layered ‘Enter The Real World’, ‘Little Sister’, and ‘The Other Side’. The latter a haunting Ghost ‘lost love’ song driven along by John Grant style synths would surely have taken Madge to the very top of the charts.
Elsewhere, ‘The Other Woman’ – a powerful, sparse, haunting piano-led ballad doffs its hat to Shakespeare’s Sister, ‘Crying Shame’ with its church organ opening and piano over swelling synths is a gorgeous ‘cloud busting’ Kate Bush-style number, and ‘We Are All Alone’ would drop neatly into a Missy Higgins release, as would ‘Jump First’, and ‘Lightning’ with its post-Coldplay chorus construction.
Drilling down into the credits, it would appear that producer/engineer Tony Draper played a key role in the project – not only contributing to the songwriting, but playing all bass, piano, Hammond and keyboards. Given how central those parts are to the Alive In Theory sound, it must be a concern whether the momentum of Abandon could be maintained without his input.
That said, an impressive acoustic version of ‘Crying Shame’ performed on Liverpool Live TV is a suitable reminder that a good song will always stand up to stripped back scrutiny, and disinterred memories of another great Manchester pairing – J.J. – whose one and only album Intro (1991) is something of a ‘lost’ gem.
So, for now, let’s not worry about that and just enjoy a damn fine record. I often wondered what George Osbourne was referring to when espousing about a Northern Powerhouse. Now we know. ****
Review by Pete Whalley
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