It’s been a good long time since I’ve been here at the reviewer’s desk, and with two European trips and a pile of other things going on in my life, I admit I’ve been slacking. But- there’s a whole stack of stuff awaiting my listening pleasure (or, in some cases, displeasure) and I’m going to try and get to EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEM, just as quickly as I am able.
That being said, for the first selection I’ve chosen James D. Stark’s "Music of the Night CD. From first glance, the cover of the CD portrays a rather brooding-looking goth lad, and on the initial spin, that’s very much on target with Mr. Stark’s music. The comparison here to "Black Celebration-era Depeche Mode is inevitable. I’ve heard dozens of synthpop outfits attempt to emulate "the Mode", and although some do a credible job with vocals or music (sometimes even both), few have had the ability to capture their pensive romantic gothiness that made them such a big deal with the dressed in black crowd. Mr. Stark steps out of the shadows and delivers what few "goth" bands seem to be able to do- create a cohesive album of tragically romantic, atmospheric music that takes you back to angst of the mid-80’s without being pathetically pretentious.
Once you get past the opening line of the first track ("Come with me into my fantasies, dream with me, take my hand into wonderland, where our love is free... "), which does seem a little pathetically pretentious, things get a whole lot better thereafter. Stark has the knack for writing songs that are more than just clever hooks, and since the album is filled with so many of them, it makes up for some of the deficits. One of those deficits is the slender quality of his voice, which gives the songs a slighter presentation than they deserve, in spite of some very good mulitracked backing harmonies. Perhaps a veteran producer could be of assistance here, but the overall effort is still commendable. Even with Stark’s self-production, the results are eminently listenable. His arrangements are outstanding for the material- the analogue synth tonalities employed are a perfect match for this pensive exercise in love forlorn. Vintage Gary Numan comes to mind in some aspects of the musicality. My only other gripe in the production is that it sounds too homogenous, like many projects of today that employ popular computer digital home production techniques, so there’s nothing that really jumps out at you. This is a major reason why Music of the Night is a good album, and not a GREAT album. In the right producer’s hands, this might have been a great album. One song on the album, "Hell", easily the most powerful track on the disc, should be a blow-away. I’d like to hear a remix of this one where key elements are pushed to the max. Put that track on the soundtrack of the next "Underworld" movie (or something like it) and J D Stark will really find his business picking up.
The easiest criticism to level is that Stark sounds too much like Depeche Mode at their most angst-ridden. But as I see it, Depeche Mode haven’t put out any good new material in years, and maybe it’s time someone stepped up to fill the void. It’s difficult to make good achingly romantic dark music these days. Stark handles the task with panache. If you’re a fan of this genre, you’d be foolish to pass this one up without a listen. Available at CD Baby in the U.S., Music Non-Stop in the UK and through the artist’s website.