Adrian Crowley – The Watchful Eye Of The Stars – Album Review
by Cathy Brown
Adrian Crowley’s ninth studio album has seen him enlist John Parish on production and Dublin’s Crash Ensemble as backing musicians, to create his most opulent sound to date. The song-writing and arrangements are rich and complex, creating a dream-like mix of strings, guitars, harps, woodwind mixed in with the pain of the lost and the broken.
Despite this new orchestral, lush sound everything here still resonates around Crowley’s rich baritone, which remains the central character. The album opens as it means to go on, with the epic Northbound Stowaway which could have come straight off a Scott Walker album. The lush warm arrangement builds from guitar and strings to a close stitched tapestry of orchestral backing, which gives the song a cinematic grandeur that rewards repeat listening. “I am thankfully thankful” sings Crowley, and so are we.
There is a change of register on the eerily hymn-like I Still See You Among Strangers, where Crowley’s ghostly reverberating vocal haunts in this ode to lost love, only lightened by the warmth of the accompanying piano. Imagery of ships and water are to the fore here, particularly on the striking Underwater Song, where droning bass and unpredictable drums contrast with the lulling sounds of the harp to suggest a sombre sense of submersion. Ships on the Water is backed by guitar-led arpeggios, a pared back use of strings and brass as a totemic foghorn features a repetitive use of lyrics suggestive of a dark
The ongoing comparison to Leonard Cohen is hard to ignore, and is most obvious on the atmospheric, The Colours of the Night – which proves the adage that rock music needs to feature the flute far more often – and The Singalong, which features propulsive cello and ominous xylophone nestled against Who By Fire-style lyrics.
Crowley’s songs are crafted like short stories set to music – particularly on spoken word number The Crow – featuring characters who are attractively bewitching, handling concrete events with the texture and ambiguity of dreams: the stowaway counting the days of his ocean journey in Northbound Stowaway, the addicts’ debilitating plight, in the Waitsian waltz of A Shut In’s Lament, and the washed up lounge musician in a seaside town in the playful Bread and Wine who notes that “the stray dogs follow me around, they seem to know their own kind”.
He saves the most mainstream song for last as Take Me Driving, all slide guitar and easy melody. Crowley resides deep inside his material, writing songs with a dramatic narrative push and musically ornate arrangements. The Watchful Eye of the Stars is no subversive genre exercise, rather it sees Crowley walk a singular and self-assured line, exploring the notion of poetic license and the musical power of character and storytelling.
With The Watchful Eye of the Stars, Adrian Crowley has conjured a sound that references other music, but is something completely and evocatively his own.