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Best Marc Almond album in years!,
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This review is from: The Tyburn Tree - Dark London (Audio CD)
The title of Marc Almond's latest project -a collaboration with award-winning composer John Harle- is almost self-explanatory.
The Tyburn Tree was the gallows which were erected in 1571 outside the North East corner of Hyde Park (today's Marble Arch) and stood there for 200 odd years (although the site had been used for public execution since the late XII c). The gallows represented both a warning for those entering London from its Westernmost end and an advancement in murderous technology, as they allowed multiple executions to be carried out simultaneously (in total, over 60,000 were hung there).
The tree is here used as a symbol of London's macabre history.
''Tyburn Tree I weep for thee.." is Almond's opening line, his role of empathetic minstrel clear from the word 'go'.
The epic and cinematic ''Fortress'' is an adaptation of William Blake's poem ''London'' where Almond sounds on top form, accompanied by a rich orchestral cavalcade with dashes of Renaissance grandeur.
The story of Spring-heeled Jack -the Victorian devilish super-antihero- unfolds accompanied by scatty guitar with a heavy nod to prog rock (Harle's teenage years were spent listening to the likes of Pink Floyd and King Crimson) and is narrated by our guide with fittingly childish theatricality, somewhat reminiscent of Napoleon XIV (he of ''They're coming to take me away ha-haa").
The following track, ''My fair lady'', was inspired by Tom Pickard, the contemporary Geordie working-class poet whom Harle collaborated with 5 years ago and is a dark reinterpretation of the nursery rhyme ''London Bridge is falling down''. For 3 and a half centuries the bridge became the scene of one of London's most gruesome sights: a display of the severed heads of traitors, impaled on pikes and dipped in tar and boiled to preserve them against the elements. The nursery rhyme ''London bridge is falling down'' is turned upside down and edited. Almond has the opportunity to put his most romantic tones to a good use to interpret the last goodbye of the convict sentenced to death ("bye bye, baby").
''Ratcliffe Highway'' (now simply called 'the Highway') is the East End road best known for the 1811 murders by the same name, in which 2 families were viciously killed (one of the first national shock stories to circulate in Britain). The Highway was described by Victorian writer Watts Phillips as "the head-quarters of unbridled vice and drunken violence-of all that is dirty, disorderly, and debased". Almond, our storyteller extraordinaire, here dips into his repertoire of Russian gipsy ballads to deliver an impassioned and gripping performance (what he does best!) with echoes of Nick Cave, as well as English traditional folk-songs.
The next story -predictably enough- is about Jack the Ripper (the first serial killer to have been given a nickname). However the murderer (who was never caught) is here imaginatively described as the Minotaur of "the labyrinth of Limehouse".
In the next two pieces Almond doesn't feature: one is ''To the crow the spoils'', in which British poet and filmmaker Ian Sinclair reads his own dark work, and the other one is ''Dark Angel'', based on the XVI c John Dee's own account of his scariest experience of spirit-evoking (beautifully interpreted by soprano Sarah Leonard).
Our mischievous guide returns with a song which is quintessentially ''Almond'' and reminiscent of the singer's most glorious years (mid to late 1980's). In ''The vampire of Highgate'' Marc is in his element, as he tells us the spooky story of the ''vampire'' sighted in Highgate cemetery in the early 1970's, accompanied by a big orchestration which includes a horn section; it could have easily been featured in his 1990's ''Enchanted'' album.
''Black widow'' is the second poem by Tom Pickard. This one is about the hanging of the innocent. Almond can be heard at his most insightful and poignant.
In ''Poor Henry'' -the story of a young man sentenced to death and hung on the Tyburn Tree- John Harle takes his inspiration from the great movies scores of the XX c, notably those written by Nino Rota for Federico Fellini (it's perhaps not a complete coincidence that Almond was recently invited to interpret -in Venetian, no less!- one of Rota's song at the Barbican, where the Tyburn Tree will be performed on 2nd March).
A version of William Blake's ''Jerusalem'' is just as cinematic, if more dramatic, and finally merges into the opening track ''Fortress'', which is revisited with different lyrics.
This complex work, whilst painstakingly researched, never comes across as exceedingly intellectual.
Harle's musical composition is infectious and engaging and its eclecticism renders the album interesting, fresh and timeless.
Having earned his honorary London citizenship (he moved to London nearly 35 years ago), Almond is perfectly at ease in his new found role of anti-bard, underdog-poet laureate. He is Dante narrating London's most infernal stories.
And, quite frankly, I couldn't imagine anyone else doing a better job.