Monday, January 30, 2006

Alpha's Come From Heaven

It's always somewhat of a feat to find one stellar, mind-blowing, life-affirming single, much less a whole album, and that's why Alpha's Come From Heaven still holds my attention, almost ten years after its initial release. The last track, "Somewhere Not Here," is by far one of the most amazingly beautiful songs from the Bristol scene, a slow-burning torch song that's so achingly perfect that it would fit just as well forty years prior in the jazz-diva age and forty years later into the future. Wendy Stubbs delivers fragile, yearning vocals; Dingley and Jenks write lush arrangements without stepping into the realm of overwrought or cliche. The song, quite clearly, is a classic.

A different version, "Sometime Later," also appears on the album. Martin Barnard pleads through this version; the song becomes despairing relative to "Somewhere Not Here"'s wishfulness. The album oscillates in between the two (as does much of Alpha's later output), with Dingley and Jenks arrangements providing perfect counterpoint each step of the way, and the mixture of tense delivery and lush production ensures Alpha's timelessness, more so than other albums of that period.

Alpha are an interesting lot - a Britpop response to trip hop's increasing output around the late '90s (the album was one of the initial releases on Massive Attack's now-defunct Melankolic label). Close To Heaven's never quite beat-driven enough to qualify as a trip hop album, and instead plays out more like pop music striving to catch up to the genre (the group Bows does the same thing with drum and bass a couple years after Close To Heaven). The album is an indication that it's achievable; "Somewhere Not Here" is indication that it's successful.

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