Spear of Destiny sound like no-one and no-one sounds like Spear of Destiny. You know it’s Kirk Brandon singing the minute you play the first track, that is, if you’re a child of the mostly unfortunate 80’s, and remember the anthems Who Believes in the Westworld and You’ll Never Take Me Alive.
Brandon, in some guise or another has been musicing pretty much constantly throughout the ’80s and ’90s. His 23-year-long career spanning punk’s seminal Theatre of Hate morphing into Spear of Destiny in the early 80’s but since then its been pretty un-chipper all things considered. After chart success in the mid 80’s, UK music press annihilation ensued, and after years of constant touring, a several year stint in America, and chronic legal wranglings, Brandon hid down for a while. He finally returned to the UK and reformed Spear of Destiny (SOD) in the late 90’s and has released two LPs during this time – Volunteers and Religion.
Morning Star, SOD’s 8th album is a far more fitting come back than either of the above, disquietening and pensive, the Brandon themes of loss, love, addiction and faith are ever present. Certainly the songs seem to have been written from a formative pain and political indignation.
The first track, Lucky Man is class Spear, the opening guitar pick reminiscent of U2, only remember, Spear were there first. Brandon’s voice has lost nothing of the power of his youth-youth, almost operatic in its delivery, and the following Mayday is a bass heavy cacophony, minor chords pushing an apocalyptic ominance. Then Half Life roars in, a heavily riff driven rock heaven, easily the strongest heavy track on the album. This Wonderful Life and Better Man aren’t as enticing; they seem just too formulaic in comparison with the rest of the album, trying to locate a hook but just not quite managing.
Move on though, because this is definitely an album born of black vinyl, of two halves, separate in theme and music landscaping from anger and politics to love and loss. It moves in this different direction after the mournful White Rose, and speaks slightly of the anti-folk influences you can hear seeing Brandon live acoustically, especially the beautiful Joy Division-like simplicity of The Mermaid and the subdued Warleigh Road, “snowflakes in Copenhagen, rain, rain” couldn’t have been voiced more emotively and the guitar solo at the end is quite special.
Spear of Destiny are an under appreciated British institution, whose punk/rock influences have been assimilated by today’s musicians but remain unsung by the music press darlings. Brandon is definitely one of our great British voices. The unassuming beauty of some of these songs, the haunting arrangements, and enough surprises make this album much more interesting on repeated listening.
The production is big and warm too. Spear have never sounded slicker, but still with a garage rawness devoid of the anthemic largesse usually employed by rock producers. The musicianship is exemplary (though the sax should have been used more), adding a surreal distance to the songs. Forgiving the weaker middle, Morning Star should be a serious contender for non-populists, and hints at greater things to come from Brandon, if only he’d play that bit further outside of the pack.