STARLESS-EARTHBOUND.

Starless-Earthbound.

Format: CD.

Label: Last Night From Glasgow.

Just over four years after Starless released their critically acclaimed eponymous debut album, the Scottish supergroup make a welcome return with their long-awaited and much-anticipated sophomore album Earthbound, which was recently released on the Last Night From Glasgow label. It’s the latest chapter in the Starless story, and is an album that was nearly two years in the making.

After the success of the group’s eponymous debut album, work began on the followup. By then, Paul McGeechan who “conceived, produced and realised” the Starless’ concept, was a veteran of the Scottish music scene.

His career began in 1982, when he cofounded Friends Again, which also included future Bathers’ lead singer Chris Thompson and James Grant, later of Love and Money. The group only released one album, the cult classic Trapped and Unwrapped in 1984. However, when the group split-up in 1984 a new group was born.

This was Love and Money which included three former members of Friends Again, Chris Kerr, James Grant and keyboardist Paul McGeechan. They released four albums to plaudits and praise between 1986 and 1993, including Strange Kind Of Love, and became one of the most successful Scotland’s most successful musical exports during this period. Sadly, the group split-up in 1994 and it was a case of starting over for Paul McGeechan.

Later in 1994, he joined a new band, Cowboy Mouth which featured Douglas MacIntyre, Gordon Wilson, Grahame Skinner and Michael Slaven. The new group released two albums 1994s Life As A Dog and Love Is Dead in 1995. Sadly, commercial success eluded both albums and Cowboy Mouth proved to be a short-lived venture.

By then, Douglas MacIntyre, Gordon Wilson and Paul McGeechan had already formed a new group, Sugartown who released their debut album Swimming In The Horsepool in 1995. Although it was well received by critics, the album failed to find the audience it deserved. This was another disappointment for Paul McGeechan, and not long after this he decided to move in a different direction.

He decided to concentrate on production which made sense as he had worked with some of the best in the business, including Tom Dowd and Gary Katz during his time with Love and Money.

Over the next few years, he worked with the great and good of Scottish music not just as producer, but also as a mixer recordist, remixer, and sideman. It seemed that artists across Scotland had Paul McGeechan’s number on speed-dial and he worked with Ricky Ross, Isobel Campbell, The Pearlfishers, James Grant, Justin Currie, the BMX Bandits, Emily Smith and Kris Drever. Paul McGeechan’s decision to reinvent himself had paid off. Then came a phone call out of the blue in 2011,

It was totally unexpected and was the phone call he never expected to receive. Love and Money had decided to reform to for what was billed as “one night only.” Love and Money were going to play at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall as part of Celtic Connections 2011. Soon, the show sold out, and when Love and Money made their comeback in their hometown, they received a rapturous reception as they worked their way through two entire albums, Strange Kind Of Love and Dogs In The Traffic. When Love and Money left the stage that night, a seed had been planted.

In December 2011, Love and Money’s comeback continued. This time, they played another hometown show, but chose the Clyde Auditorium. So successful was the show, that Love and Money decided to record their fifth solo album, and first since 1993.

This was The Devil’s Debt, which was released in October 2012 and received positive reviews from critics. It was the first Love and Money album in nineteen years and was welcomed by fans old and new. However, not long after this, Paul McGeechan’s thoughts turned to a project he had been contemplating for several years, Starless.

Starless.

The new group was the brainchild of Paul McGeechan, and a project he first contemplated a couple of years before the Love and Money reunion. It was only after the reunion, that he decided to return to songwriting and  his new songs found their way onto what became Starless eponymous debut album.

For his new project, Paul McGeechan had a wish-list of well known names from Scottish music. He knew it wasn’t going to be easy to persuade everyone to take part in the project. 

Apart from former Cocteau Twin Liz Fraser, everyone agreed to take part and Paul McGeechan was joined in the studio by some of the great and good of Scottish music for the recording of Starless. This included The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan, The Bathers’ Chris Thomson, former Capercaillie vocalist Karen Matheson and folk singer Julie Fowlis. They were joined by Lau’s Kris Drever and Ewan Vernal who was by Paul McGeechan’s during much of the recording of Starless. Eventually, the album was completed and his dream had become reality.

When Starless was released in May 2016, it was to critical acclaim. Critics heaped praise on an album where the Scottish supergroup incorporated elements of Scottish-Gaelic traditional music, pop, rock, an element of theatre and were joined by The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. It was an album full of ethereal beauty where troubled troubadours with worldweary vocals join lush strings in producing what was an almost flawless album. The big question was would there be a followup? 

Earthbound.

There was, and just like its predecessor Starless, the much-anticipated followup Earthbound was a star-studded affair that took the best part of two years to record. Joining Paul McGeechan this time around were some old friends from his musical past, including some of the cast from Starless.

This included his old friend from Friends Again, and Bathers frontman Chris Thompson and folk singer Julie Fowlis, who made a welcome return on Earthbound. They were joined by Hipsway’s Grahame Skinner, former Big Dish frontman Steven Lindsay, onetime Delgado Emma Pollock and Jerry Burns. There’s also contributions from Marie Clare, Karliene, Silvia Ramón Gérard and The Prague Philharmonic Orchestra who played such an important part in the sound of Starless. 

Recording of Earthbound took place in three studios in Scotland, Waterside Productions, Chem 19 and UWS. Then producer Paul McGeechan travelled to Smecky Studios in the Czech capital where he recorded the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra’s contribution. By then, he knew he had almost completed the project that was conceived nearly two years earlier. After nearly two years of hard work, Earthbound, the much-anticipated followup to Starless was complete. 

Eventually, in late-May 2020, Starless received their long-awaited sophomore album Earthbound. The band’s eponymous debut album had set the bar high, and it wasn’t going to be easy to match never mind surpass the quality of Starless. However, if anyone could do it, it was Paul McGeechan and his all-star band Starless on Earthbound.

Opening Earthbound is Long Bhriseadh (Shipwreck). It’s an emotive instrumental full of drama that paints pictures as strings sweep and the piano plays. Later, the sound of waves break on the deserted shore and in the distance a piper plays, adding to the heartbreak and drama on this cinematic sounding track.

The traditional Gaelic lament Ailein Duinn features a heartfelt and impassioned vocal from Karliene. Meanwhile, strings sweep, the piano plays and drums provide the heartbeat. Then later, the sound of waves lapping on the beach is added and is the finishing touch to what’s a truly beautiful track.

Paper is a piano lead track that features a tender, thoughtful vocal from former Delgado Emma Pollock. As the understated  arrangement unfolds and evolves there’s a nod to trip hop pioneers Portishead. Later, strings sweep, swirl and dance as the Castle Douglas-born singer delivers a tender, soul-baring vocal on one of Earthbound’s highlights.

Breakdown marks the Starless debut of former Big Dish frontman Steven Lindsay. He delivers an impassioned and bittersweet vocal that’s akin to a confessional. Meanwhile, drums, crack, strings cascade and along with the piano set the scene and add an element of drama to this four minute mini-drama.

Making a welcome return on Spellbound is Chris Thompson of The Bathers. A distant piano and strings set the scene on this understated and spacious. Just a lone piano accompanies the troubled troubadour as he enters and takes centrestage. Soon, he’s painting pictures with his lived-in, worldweary vocal and breathing life and meaning into the lyrics. Meanwhile, drums provide the heartbeat and strings sweep and later quiver and shiver. They frame the wistful vocal during a spellbinding performance from one of Scotland’s finest vocalists.

There’s a sense of melancholy from the opening bars of Glittering Light as a piano plays and the arrangement gradually reveals its secrets. This includes cinematic strings and a tender, heartfelt vocal from one of Scottish music’s best kept secrets Jerry Burns. She’s accompanied by an arrangement that shimmers and glistens as strings sweep and later with a voice full of emotion, asks: “where are you now?” 

The sound of Morse code opens Settling Mist before a lone piano plays and is joined by strings. They sweep majestically and later are joined by pipes in creating a cinematic track that latterly,  has a quintessentially Scottish sound.

The ethereal sounding Marie Clare Lee featured on Starless’ eponymous debut album. She makes a welcome return on Chase The Devil, where she lays bare her soul on a widescreen symphonic epic. 

Very different is Cridhe Aingeal, an eerie, atmospheric and filmic interlude that lasts just twenty-five seconds. 

Seesaw and sweeping strings add a melancholy hue on Somewhere In The Night as they accompany Steven Lindsay’s impassioned vocal. It’s joined by drums and synths as the drama builds on an arrangement that in parts, harks back to the eighties. Meanwhile, the vocal is mixture of power and passion as he sings: “so pray for me and shield me from the light, and wait for me.” Framing his needy pleas is a stirring, string drenched arrangement that proves to be the perfect accompaniment.     

Another of the highlights of Earthbound is Sea Shanty No.2 (Wish You Were Here) Hipsway frontman Grahame Skinner delivers a vocal full loneliness, longing and hurt. He sounds as if he’s lived the lyrics as the strings sweep and swirl and a backing vocalist adds to the sense of longing.

Chris Thompson returns Calvary which initially has an understated arrangement. Soon, its beating heart is joined by a guitar and strings that add a degree of urgency. Meanwhile his vocal takes on a confessional quality as the genre-melting arrangement builds and becomes dramatic. This is perfect backdrop for a vocal that’s akin to a cathartic unburdening from The Bathers’ frontman.

Closing Earthbound is the lament Ailein Duinn (1957) which was written in Gaelic for sea captain for Alan Morrison by his fiancée Annie Campbell. They set sail to Lewis in 1788, and sailed into a storm and the vessel sank with only Annie Campbell surviving. She was broken hearted and wrote this lament for her lost love. Sadly, she died a few months later having wasted away because of the grief and heartbreak and her lasting legacy is this lament.

Starless reinvent Annie Campbell’s lament and give it a ‘21st’ Century makeover. It opens with the sound of waves breaking on the shore and claps of thunder as Julie Fowlis’ vocal enters. It’s replaced by melancholy strings before she returns and continues to deliver a tender, heartfelt and emotive vocal. Then when it drops out the sound of waves crashing and gently breaking on the beach can be heard. They’re accompanied by a harpsichord and later, replaced by what’s meant to be a ship using Morse Code to tell of the shipwreck that they’ve discovered after the storm. It’s a sobering and heart-wrenching way to close the album with such a tragic story that is guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings.   

Nearly four years after the release of their eponymous debut album, Starless make a welcome return with the long-awaited and much-anticipated sophomore album Earthbound. Just like its predecessor, Starless founder Paul McGeechan was joined by an impressive all-star lineup. However, this time around, he’s shuffled the pack and some new names join the cast. This includes Emma Pollock, Grahame Skinner and Steven Lindsay. They joined Chris Thompson, Julie Fowlis and Marie Claire Lee who featured on Starless, and play their part in the sound and success of the followup Earthbound. So do the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra whose contribution to the album can’t be underestimated. 

They play their part in sweeping, widescreen arrangements that provide the perfect backdrop to songs that are variously atmospheric, beautiful, cinematic, dramatic. elegiac and ethereal. Other songs are haunting or full of hurt, loneliness, longing and melancholia and are brought to life by some of Scotland’s finest vocalists who breath life, meaning and emotion into the lyrics. They play their part in a near flawless opus that marks the welcome return of Paul McGeechan’s all-star band Starless, on their near flawless epic Earthbound.

Starless-Earthbound.

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