Album Reviews

The Montgolfier Brothers – The World Is Flat

(Poptones) UK release date: 2 September 2001


The Montgolfier Brothers’ debut album Seventeen Stars became the first album release on Alan McGee’s new Poptones label following his departure from Creation. Three years on and Mark Tranmer and Roger Quigley’s labelmates include The Hives and The Bellrays, bands who are musically about as far removed as possible from the Montgolfiers.

Why? Essentially because Mark and Roger’s music lies somewhere between that of Jack and John Barry and doesn’t even pretend to be anything to do with rock. The World Is Flat, thrown on to the CD player as one of several of the day, stopped me in my tracks. It is quite simply dribble-inducingly gorgeous. And despite the band’s name, it has nothing at all to do with balloon-making.

From the street sounds setting the musical background for the first of four instrumentals, 2.55 Newbury, through the vocal tracks I Couldn’t Sleep Either and Be Selfish, there’s never a moment for the listener to consider being anything other than spellbound. Anyone who cared for the music of Jack‘s side project Jacques will immediately love this record.

There are huge synth washes over stark, echoed guitar work, particularly noticeable on ‘Think Once More’ – another instrumental track. And subtle backing from piano and keyboards lend the whole project a classily noirish, middle-of-the-night feel, exacerbated by the beautiful chord changes and Tranmer’s voice bemoaning “the conversations fuelled by gin / and the angy mood it gets you in”. He sounds very far from angry, however.

The potential for soundtrack success shouldn’t be underestimated either. The instrumental tracks especially would grace any cinema – but they’d need a classy film to go with them. Be Selfish, one of several stand-out tracks, owes a great deal to Frank Sinatra, specifically Strangers In The Night of all things, as it swoons off into piano heaven and leaves the listener spellbound. And just when you think it can’t get any better, along comes album closer Inches Away – surely the most sublime and perfect ending to any album, sonically, lyrically – in every way.

With The World Is Flat, The Montgolfier Brothers have produced one of the most gorgeous records I’ve heard all year, an album that can truly be called a gem.


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