Spirits Burning - An Alien Heat

Gonzo/Multimedia [Release date 19.10.18]

‘An Alien Heat’ pairs Don Falcone’s innovative San Francisco band Spirits Burning with 70′s Hawkwind alumnus and sci-fi fantasy writer Michael Moorcock.

Best known for his work on Hawkwind’s 1975 album ‘Warrior on the Edge of Time’ and his lyrics to ‘Sonic Attack’ and ‘The Black Corridor’, Moorcock returns to his sci-fi fantasy themes on an album that might be regarded as a space opera.

In truth, a space opera might also be an indirect way of admitting this is a spacey jumble with frequent indecipherable lyrics and narratives, but happily it is counter-balanced by moments of space rock inspiration.

No surprise then, to discover that the 30 plus musicians on the project include members of Blue Oyster Cult, Hawkwind and members of Arthur Brown’s band, The Groundhogs, Camper Van Beethoven and Camel etc.

And if the jury was out back in the mid-70′s on Moorcock’s literary into musical ambitions with his space poetry, then this album does little to add to the quandary.

He’s an imaginative lyricist whose sci-fi notions  have dated a little. And the problem with the album as a whole – apart from the lack of a much needed lyric sheet – is that there simply ain’t big bones to hang the concepts on.

You can imagine that someone – probably Don Falcone – must have spent hours pulling everything together to try make a coherent whole out of lots of independently recorded parts.

In truth, the album just about strikes a level of consistency, but it’s at the expense of real spark. Above all, Moorcock’s lyrics too often get lost in the mush, whereas presumably the music should be supporting the lyrical themes.

As it is ‘An Alien Heat’ invites us to dip into a series of moods, musical pulses, and intricately layered sounds that will appeal to lovers of Robert Calvert era Hawkwind with some Blue Oyster Cult edge.

Indeed if you delve into the instrumental bonus disc (almost ironically without the esoteric lyrics) you get a stronger feel for the material.

Things open promisingly with the Hawkwind influenced ‘Hothouse Flowers’ on which BOC’s Buck Dharma contributes a perfect vocal on a space rock track with commercial pretensions, delivered over an urgent back beat.

The following ‘Geronimo’ opens with Albert Bouchard’s animated proclamation and Jonathan Segel’s violin, but the vocal lacks clarity of diction on a muddled mix that just about frames Moorcock’s rudimentary harp playing and Mick Slattery’s brief but incisive guitar lines.

In sharp contrast, ‘Soiree of Fire’ is a triumph, opening with the chanted song title as Ann Marie Castellano does her best Gilli Smyth (Gong) impression and brings welcome lyrical clarity, in between some timeless moog and a breathless bass line that reminds me of Amon Duul.

The other highlight is the synth laden ‘Dark Dominion’, the closest we get to a groove. The song benefits from an excellent lead vocal by Andy Shernoff and a clever voice collage on the hook, delivered over a portentous sounding bell.

The song is something to do with time travellers, but as with the album as a whole, the listener has to make do with general space fantasy themes.

The splendidly titled ‘To Steal A Space Traveller’ features Joe Bouchard on lead vocal, on a mini suite that stops and starts after launching into a purposeful mid-to-up tempo, staggered by a narrative.

Unsurprisingly, it has another Hawkwind influenced intro and a fast shifting narrative which changes direction on an end-piece bathed in synth squalls.

The ending serves a link into the space poetry of ‘Virtue & Mrs. Amelia Underwood’, which features Albert Bouchard on vocals, some beautiful piano from Don Falcone and bassoon from Bridget Wishart (aka Mrs A.U.).  It’s a good example of the way disparate musical segments contribute to a project that works hard to make a coherent whole.

For the rest, there’s the recurring close-to-the-mic Zappa style vocal of Jsun Atoms on ‘In The Future’ – glued together by Richie Castellano’s guitar parts, as Atoms extends his vocal into Sparks style falsetto.  And then there’s his enveloping vocal on the spacey ‘Any Particular Interest’. The latter brings a particular  mood if not clarity, to a musically impressive piece that embraces metal riffs and intricate percussion.

The best moments on the album come with the tension breaking resolutions such as Andy Dalby’s angular guitar solo on the end of ‘Seven Finger Solution’ and his fluid work on ‘Thank You For The Fog’.

‘An Alien Heat’ almost finishes on a notable high with the quasi anthemic vocal and synth line of the repeated title of ‘Old Friends With New Faces’. Only a deflating drop-down robs the album of some well earned grandeur. ***½ 

Review by Pete Feenstra

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