Factory Star – Enter Castle Perilous
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2011 “end of year album” of these twelve months is going to prove mightily difficult to resolve down to a winner – it’s only March and I’m already completely overwhelmed by at least five albums which demand to be number one – this one is probably going to be up there, with one other, when December comes around.
We have all waited a while for Mr. Martin Bramah to deliver something we’ve all known he is capable of putting out, and, he has more than delivered it this time. Quite simply put this is an exceptional piece of work.
Factory Star has been around in one form or another since 2009 and has been through two changes before settling on the current line-up that has delivered this album. Those of us who have been lucky enough to see the various versions of the band soon realised that the FS#3 group of musicians were the most capable in delivering Martin’s excellent songs. His obvious enjoyment in playing the whole of this album at FAC 251 in February was proof positive that this album was going to be something special.
I won’t waste your time in trying to pigeon-hole this album in some genre or another – it’s raw. primal rock music with excellent lyrics, fantastic playing and wonderfully crafted songs, the majority of which of Bramah’s, with the addition of Anne Matthews on two of the songs. There are some stunning hooks in here with tunes like “Angel Steps” and “Stone Tumbling Stream” – and there is also music which demands listening and close attention to the detail of the words, and the arrangements. Having had the pleasure of watching Martin play one of the songs up close (as it were) in session on the radio (When Sleep Won’t Come) I can attest to his ability and craft as a song-writer. Persistent partner and all round good chap Hop Man Jr delivers excellent keyboards, and the Chris Dutton, Tom Lewis rhythm section is just about perfect to support Bramah’s tunes.
The album is programmed in two sections of five songs each.
The poetic quality of Bramah’s lyrics are evidenced clearly with the opening “Angel Steps” which manages to meld garage sensibilities with a use of language which you don’t normally get in rock music – an excellent opener to an album by anyone’s yard-stick. The gloomy exterior to the album with it’s dark skies and iconic statues, and electricity pylons reflects the dense and evocative “Big Mill” which is all clashing guitars and swirling organ sounds – the trade-mark chittering Bramah guitar is at the fore front as the band moves through a dense blues ridden jungle of angst – as Martin exorcises any number of demons with a bravura vocal performance. The Milligan-esque “Away Dull Care” title reflects the decade in which the writer (and me) were born but also is an ironic side-swipe at the music-biz and one of the trade-mark excellent hook-laden tunes that you can find throughout this album. “Cheetham Bill” has been a live staple for the band for a while and is delivered with some gusto here. The tale of life. love and death in a North Manchester suburb (perhaps) is a perfect kitchen sink drama encapsulated in 3:19. The slow neo-blues of “Black Comic Book” is a suitably rich end to the first five song section, lyrically perfect and with a rather wonderfully understated guitar solo at the end where Bramah shows his craft at it’s best. You have to take a breath at this point as there are five more songs to go.
As mentioned above the rather marvellous “When Sleep Won’t Come” starts the second group of five songs – the restrained passion in this song attests the control and ability of the band – this is the closest Bramah gets to a love song on the album and Hop Man’s keyboard solo is beautiful. As a carry over from Bramah’s now deleted solo album “The Fall of Great Britain” can be read on many levels – you can draw your own conclusions from the words – I just like listening to the meshing of keyboards and guitar and the powerful rhythmic interplay and agreeing that the “philistines” need a good talking to. Unreliable historians? Yeah! We know who they are. “New Chemical Light” continues the run of quality songs on the album, the difference being this one sort of creeps on you, and you realise it’s a bit of a masterpiece after about three or four listens. The penultimate song on the album is a classic. Always brilliant live, on the album it just brings a huge smile to this writers face – “Stone Tumbling Stream” is a must listen tune – if you don’t immediately love this song then you want your bumps feeling! The closing “Arise Europa” is perhaps the closest to the old “Blue Orchids” sound on the album – and is a joyous celebration of the band at its most potent.
In summary – well worth the wait and bloomin’ marvellous – very highly recommended!!