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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Blackmore's Night: Autumn Sky


1) Highland; 2) Vagabond; 3) Journeyman; 4) Believe In Me; 5) Sake Of The Song; 6) Song And Dance; 7) Cellu­loid Heroes; 8) Keeper Of The Flame; 9) Night At Eggersberg; 10) Strawberry Girl; 11) All The Fun Of The Fayre; 12) Darkness; 13) Dance Of The Darkness; 14) Health To The Company; 15) Barbara Allen.

It looks as if Blackmore's Night are running out of inspiration for their album titles even faster than they are running out of songwriting ideas. Autumn Sky? What next, Winter Snow? Sum­mer Rain? Springtime For Hitler? Hmm, come to think of it, it might only be a matter of years before we hear a tenderheart Candice Night cover of ʽTomorrow Belongs To Meʼ — isn't that just the sort material that'd seem tailor-made for the lyrical duo?

Okay, that first paragraph was a bit nonsensical and maybe even in bad taste, but it is only be­cause I keep on running out of meaningful things to say about these records. And Autumn Sky is the very first LP by Blackmore's Night that does not feature even one distinguishable highlight. Of the endlessly interchangeable series of medievalesque ballads and baroque instrumentals, only ʽJourneymanʼ stands out, but in a bad way: it is a cover of a song by a Swedish folk-pop band, Nordman, borrowing their campy trick of merging a village dance melody with an electronic beat to a thoroughly embarrassing effect, almost as cringeworthy as ʽWriting On The Wallʼ on the first album. Next time we gather round the campfire, ladies and gentlemen, don't forget to bring along your trusty sampler — we don't want to give out the impression that we're still living in the Dark Ages, do we? Just imagine if Robin Hood's merry band had access to electronic drums...

There is yet another cover of another Swedish folk-pop band here — ʽHighlandʼ by One More Time, not as distinctively slap-in-your-face and somehow managing to evoke a bit of ABBA and a bit of stern Viking metal at the same time (the former mainly through Candice's vocal styliza­tions, and the latter through its anthemic, solemn pacing), but still fairly flat and dull, never quite fulfilling the promise of taking you up into those highlands. I suppose we should be grateful to Ritchie for digging out these obscure bands for us to deepen our knowledge, but the songs do not truly make me want to rush out and immerse myself in the contemporary Swedish folk-pop scene, or in any contemporary folk-pop scene, for that matter.

Even more disturbing, though, is the presence of a bunch of ballads like ʽBelieve In Meʼ, appa­rently self-written and rather modestly arranged — but their melodic foundation is that of a generic power ballad, meaning that the songs could have just as well been written by Diane Warren, and I could just see them delivered wild-and-loud on stage by a leotard-clad Cher, with smoke, fireworks, and ecstatic audience members setting each other on fire with their lighters and putting the fires out with rivers of tears. A power ballad like that is usually nauseating; but take the power out of the power ballad and what you're left with is just Dullsville.

Likewise, there is no doubt in my mind that Ritchie and Candice love Ray Davies' ʽCelluloid Heroesʼ — but goshdarnit, the song was never anything special as a piece of musical composition: what made it unforgettable was Ray's delivery, that hard-to-catch naïve tenderness in his voice as he managed to profoundly convey «a kid's affection» for each of the listed Hollywood heroes. Candice is friendly, too, but she just sings the words like a standard pro, and there is no special charisma here, none of that «little-man-comments-on-shadows-of-heroes» idea that made the song into one of the last Kinks classics.

Returning to the opening paragraph, I will let you in on a thoroughly unkept secret: they actually named the album after their daughter, Autumn Esmerelda Blackmore, born that same year and receiving her first musical gift from her happy parents three months later. That might actually explain things a bit — it is perfectly understandable that making good music was not the Black­more's first priority in 2010 — but it does not explain why they did not slap on an honest dis­claimer sticker, saying «for our adorable little offspring» and saving the common folks from yet another inevitable disappointment. Thumbs down

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