This Astronauts album from 1989 is rarely heard it seems.
Shame, as it is, or at least one side of it is, absolutely brilliant, carrying on in the vein of their previous releases.
But it is bi-polar, and the two physical sides of the original release, suggest two sides to the band - or should I say, two sides to Mark Astronaut.
As already indicated, Side 1 of this release does maintain the sound and energy of previous titles, and could be considered the third side to the excellent All Done By Mirrors album of 1983.
It very much carries on where that album finished: the tracks maintaining a live feel and typical to Mark's songs contain jaunty melodic tunes oxymoronically juxtaposed with the most downbeat of lyrics.
Firmly rooted in realism, Mark's words reported back from a very dark underbelly (there are few lyricists that dare go as dark and bleak as Mark); but like the best of artists (Dickens, Burroughs, Kelman, et al), his songs are deeply poetic, containing word play and rhyme schemes that are funny, poignant, profound and masterfully crafted; creating an uplifting effect, rather than dragging the listener down to the pits of despair, inspiring solace in a bottle or a blade.
All is suffering, of course.
But the suffering of others can become great art; and when Mark reveals that he needs to find 'someone to throw up on' ('Subversion'), it makes you smile, but also makes you nod with recognition.
The second side of the album is very different, and here Mark experiments with different sounds and textures.
Working with collaborator Russel Seal (who plays all instruments on the three tracks) Mark realises some songs that perhaps wouldn't have been possible with the usual band format.
Very much studio tracks, a different side to the Astronauts is revealed.
Still very bleak, the tracks seem somewhat more personal, and reveal a paranoia and an edge that Mark always seemed to rise above and be rather detached from (even on Peter Pan, which in my opinion is the Astronauts' darkest and greatest album); and rather than singing about others and their dire situations, here he seems to be spilling his guts, exposing his soul, and as a consequence the rawness makes the songs difficult to listen to - a bit like reading your friend's diary when they're out of the room - kind of uplifting, but at the same time making you feel dirty and voyeuristic.
I do feel this was the last of the great Astronauts' albums, and once this had been cut Mark radically changed direction; perhaps searching for a little more commercial success and recognition; or maybe this album, in all its deep revelation, allowed Mark to move on, in a 'right, done that' manner.
But I do feel he may have become divorced from his muse; in a Stevie Smith kind of way.
( My Muse
My Muse sits forlorn
She wishes she had not been born
She sits in the cold
No word she says is ever told.
Why does my Muse only speak when she is unhappy?
She does not, I only listen when I am unhappy
When I am happy I live and despise writing
For my muse this cannot but be dispiriting.
Stevie Smith )
The Astronauts - In Defence of Compassion (1989)
Behind the Mirrors*
*Tracks made with Russel Seal.
Vinyl rip @320kbs
Empathise with the dark side here