Scarlet Fantastic - Reverie (Dirtbag Baby Records)

Scarlet Fantastic – Reverie (Dirtbag Baby Records)

It is probably fair to say that not many people were anticipating a Scarlet Fantastic album in 2016; their previous (and only other) record, 24 Hours, was released back in 1987 when Maggie K De Monde and Rick P. Jones had formed the band from the embers of the peerless Swans way, who split after one extraordinary album, 1984’s The Fugitive Kind.

Where the ’80s Scarlet Fantastic traded in super-sparkly sophisticated pop music, (see 1987 smash ‘No Memory’), the new incarnation (which is effectively a solo effort from De Monde with guests) has a more organic, almost folky feel. However, the themes are not as far removed; De Monde still exudes positive energy and this always comes across in her work.  Stylistically, Reverie has more in common with her 2012 album Union, which was recorded with (Marc Almond‘s keyboard player) Martin Watkins and released under the name Maggie and Martin.

Indeed, opener ‘Take Me Away’ would not sound out of place on Almond’s fabulous Mother Fist album, with its accordion-led vibe turning into a playful ode to escapism that sets the scene nicely for the 11 tracks that will follow.

Scarlet Fantastic – Take Me Away

‘Church Bells and Starlings’, with its reference to ‘distant bells’  and ‘snow falling soft and clean’ would actually make a great Christmas record – killer chorus present and correct. ‘Sand’ on the other hand, brings to mind Nick Cave‘s Murder Ballads; where Cave duetted with a host of singers on that record, De Monde brings in Dominic Silvani from The Avon Guard as a really effective foil, his gritty voice blending wonderfully with De Monde’s clear, bright tones.

‘Taste Of You’ has De Monde tuning into her inner Jacques Brel, and is another strong tune, a waltz-time piece that is almost a title track with its mention of reverie, while ‘Beyond Pluto’ shows De Monde’s humorous side, it being a song about sending an LP into outer-space, then finding a beautiful alien to dance amongst the stars listening to said record (by scraping their fingernails around the grooves!)

A beautiful version of Spirit‘s 1968 track ‘Nature’s Way’ has De Monde’s vocals effectively double tracked with a really simple backing, showing that less can be more; the whole album has a really natural, uncluttered sound with De Monde’s voice rightly centre-stage – she has a voice full of drama but never over-sings and packs more of an emotional punch as a result.

‘The Phoenix’, tucked away in the middle of Side Two, would make a wise choice for a single as it is probably the most commercial track on the album. ‘Crystalline’ closes the album with a real lightness of touch, in a similar way to how The Smiths used one of their most underrated moments, ‘I Won’t Share You’ at the end  of their final album Strangeways, Here We Come. Here’s hoping that this will neither be the final Scarlet Fantastic record, or indeed that there isn’t a 29-year wait until the next one!

Reverie is released on 3rd June.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.