For a while, it looked like we’d lost Gordon Anderson. Institutionalised in the mid-nineties due to his serious mental instability, a return to making music at all, let alone one of the freshest, funkiest, tragic and joyous albums in recent times, seemed unlikely.
This is arguably the album The Beta Band should have made, but everyone knows they went awry after The 3 EPS, a chief contributor to which was one Gordon Anderson. No coincidence there.
Where the hell to start? Really, every track here deserves repeated listening, deconstructing and worship. Generally speaking, it is an album drenched in the psychedelia of Traffic, Grateful Dead, The Doors, The Beach Boys and bits and bobs of pretty much every Beatles phase. Then there are tracks like Rox, which thanks to keyboardist and DJ John Maclean, just oozes Funkadelic and electroclash. Its the song that Primal Scream have been yearning to write for all these years.
The joy at the reunion of Anderson with Maclean and drummer Robin Jones (the latter two ex-Beta Band members) is clearly celebrated, with uplifting songs like Robert Man, The Happy Song and Only Waiting that have dance floor written all over them. However, under the heavy hooks and bleeps and wistfully perfect melodies, lurks a subtle sense of tragedy and heartbreak, something perhaps surprising to those who have been at one The Aliens’ euphoric shows.
Anderson’s take on love is strikingly simple and very British. For Rubber Soul and Revolver, Lennon and McCartney wrote songs about break-ups where men are left brutally severed from relationships with indifferent females. Think For No One, Girl, Norwegian Wood and You Won’t See Me. Anderson’s Tomorrow, Setting Sun and, particularly, Glover, are about forlorn men recovering from the destruction that womankind can wreak. Telling mantras repeated on the latter track are “Don’t rely on them for love” and “They come into your life then they walk away”. Not exactly poetry, but it’s basic and true and sincere. In the hands of a lesser talent than Anderson and his perfect pop sensibilities, and it would all be rather embarrassing and adolescent.
But despite the misery, Astronomy For Dogs still manages to inject a dose of innocent fun into a moribund British pop music scene. Almost everything is up-tempo and singalong and I don’t say this easily, or ever in fact, but it is a feel-good album. The Happy Song is very happy indeed, and Robot Man is an instant dance classic that may well end up taught in schools. Just ignore all those lyrics about betrayal and loss.
One minor trough is Honest Again, a slightly sub-par ballad of the plodding variety. Their 2006 EP, Alienoid Starmonica featured Ionas (Look For Space), a piece of space rock worthy of early Pink Floyd that would have fit better into the cosmic vibe of the album. To their credit, The Aliens wished to put as few songs from the EP on the album as possible, so as to avoid cheating fans. They are indeed, Honest Again, but maybe too honest for their own good.
The album concludes with all 13 minutes of Caravan, by the end of which the mesmerising odyssey that is Astronomy For Dogs must begin again. As you may have noticed, I’m running out of things to say – that’s because this is one of those albums the quality of which must be heard, rather than translated into words. Go to.