Mark Morriss – A Flash Of Darkness (2014)
I have been looking forward to “A Flash Of Darkness” ever since the project was announced (and funded through Pledge Music) as I have been a fan of Mark Morriss’ music since the Bluetones’ debut album back in 1996. I haven’t always loved each and every song that The Bluetones released, but, on the whole, don’t believe they ever made a bad record (far from it), plus Mark’s first solo album, “Memory Muscle”, back in 2008, was an excellent effort too. Being familiar with pretty much everything Mark has ever released, I can therefore make the bold assertion that this is one of the best pieces of work that Mark has produced, either solo or as part of his previous group. It has the intelligence, the immediately likeable qualities and the high standard of songwriting of The Bluetones’ best output, but – being a solo record – has a little more space to let the individual songs shine than perhaps a Bluetones album, usually with a fuller, denser sound, would have allowed. In short, it’s a really great collection of catchy, enjoyable songs and proves that there is life beyond the now defunct Bluetones for their talented singer-songwriter.
There simply isn’t a weak track on the album, but I will attempt to pick out of some my favourite tracks from this superb album. Chiming bells, whistling and the hint of the wild west kicks off the album, with its title track’s dark lyrics over a Latin-tinted, stop-start score providing a top-notch first track. “Consuela” is a slice of perfect, driving, shimmering indie-pop which, I’d imagine, is nigh on impossible to dislike. “It’s Hard To Be Good All Time” opens up with the kind of winding guitar riff that was the highlight of many Bluetones songs, but is an understated minor key gem, with a classy, dramatic reverb-soaked chorus. “Low Company” is nothing short of magnificent, a composition that starts quietly and builds into a powerful, beautiful monster of a song. The excellent, upbeat “Life Without F(r)iction” is one of the closest things here to a Bluetones song, perhaps not coincidentally so as it features Adam Devlin on guitar, as does “Space Cadet”, another fine Bluetones-esque track. The final song on the album, “Sleep Song” is another brilliant composition, both mighty and beauteous, that has echoes of Morriss’ former band.
All-in-all, this is a truly wonderful album and will delight Bluetones fans who were sad about the demise of the band. Mark and Gordon Mills, together with some special guests (including Matt Berry, playing Harmonium on Mark’s decent cover of The Shins’ “Pink Bullets”) have given superb, inspired and accomplished performances with a range of songs eclectic enough to make the whole album both interesting and fulfilling. The lyrics are clever, sometimes touching, sometimes funny, but always very human. A special mention must be made for the cover, which features creatures either similar or identical to the evil forest folk from South Park. The cutesy cartoon animals are slightly more sinister than they first appear on the front cover… examine all of the art carefully; it’s a good metaphor for the music within the album. “A Flash Of Darkness” may have been an album Morriss approached with self-confessed uncertainty and his first without the safety net of his Bluetones day job, but it’s one that cements his credentials as a solo artist and reassures fans everywhere that something they loved hasn’t ended and may, in fact, be back and better than ever before.