The title of Marc Almond’s new album paraphrases a quote from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra: “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” Chaos And A Dancing Star is the second album made in collaboration with Chris Braide, and is intended as a follow-on from their 2015 release The Velvet Trail.
You can understand Almond’s attraction to gloomy Friedrich; both enjoy juxtaposing opposites, and in this respect, the album’s title is on the money. Describing it as “My most ‘Gothic’ record since Marc and The Mambas days”, Almond also points out that, although it started life as a prog-rock project, the pop souls of both its creators couldn’t help but surface, and this is manifestly true of many of the tracks: the words may be dark, but the upbeat hummable melodies just keep on returning from the crypt. Indeed, after listening to this album, one feels that, somehow, if ever there were to be such a thing as Buffy: The Musical, Almond and Braide are the pair to write it.
The album opens with Black Sunrise, whose morbid text, dramatic synth-chorus and closing rock-guitar riff might see it filed under ‘lyric-vampiric’; this is followed by Hollywood Forever, a ballad recalling faded stardom, and whose title (the name of a Los Angeles cemetery) hints at the double suicide contained therein. This West Coast feel permeates several songs on the album, particularly Slow Burn Love, the most pop-heavy track, which is also released as a single, and one can only picture Chevrolet Corvett Stingray, a salute to a cold sociopathic beauty, bathed in California sunshine. Dreaming Of Sea, with its opening piano, voice and chorus feels almost as though it might have taken inspiration from Barry Manilow.
There’s a whiff of Almond’s earlier flirtation with the songs of Jacques Brel about Dust; and Cherry Tree, notwithstanding its dwelling on one of Almond’s favourite themes – the impermanence of love – is surprisingly underscored by a Latin drumbeat. The title track, Chaos, takes Nietzsche’s maxim and turns it into a paean to living on the edge: “Life will only let you down if your dreams are mink and sable” runs Almond’s inimitably arch lyric.
A couple of tracks really highlight the dark/light polarity going on here. Giallo (the term for Italian murder-mystery films), despite its distant-gongs-and-clangs opening and its campy-sinister text (“I dreamed that on the day I killed you, I put on black leather gloves”) remains enjoyably balladic. Lord Of Misrule – featuring flute playing from Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson – is a gorgeously chaotic anti-Christmas number, the fluting summoning folksy dancing, the text suggesting the dark wishes of Yuletide.
Perhaps the most outrightly chilling tracks are When The Stars Are Gone and the final The Crows Eyes Have Turned Blue. The former is a simple ballad, but sung in an icy musical landscape that complements this meditation on death; the latter begins as an angular melody that might, if given a different and more fluid setting (as happens in its final iteration), be more exultant, but for most of the song remains chillingly broken, underscored by a piano and a whisper of bass. As Almond says, gnomically, of it: “For me it is the end of it all, which in itself is another beginning.”