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Fortress Madonna - 100 Beacons

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 21 / 2 / 2002

Fortress Madonna - 100 Beacons
Label: Laughing Outlaw
Format: CD


Difficult to categorise debut album from the mysterious Fortress Madonna, the first British signing to Australian power pop and alt. country specialistsl Laughing Outlaw.

This is something of a departure for Laughing Outlaw Records. Fortress Madonna do not fit into their normal alt country or power pop roster. They are also something of a mystery, or are Laughing Outlaw making some sort of joke in their press release? According to the label, the driving force behind the band is one Alex Serikov. We are told that he represented Russia in the 1988 Olympics, but an injury brought an early end to his gymnastic career. After studying English at university, Alex was recruited into the KGB. The songs on this album are apparently built around his experiences. Alex can’t be interviewed to promote this release as he has now returned to Russia and gone missing, probably due to his drinking/gambling habits and mounting debts. The fact that he is only credited as playing cello amongst the sixteen musicians mentioned on the sleeve maybe gets nearer the truth. As Nick Morwood who plays bass and sings and guitarist/vocalist Mick Murphy are conducting all interviews, maybe we shouldn’t dwell on the mysterious Mr. Serikov. Especially as the group's other guitarist Brian Sullivan is listed as writer of all the songs as well! The one fact in the press release that seems to be true without any doubt is that the album was recorded in good old Maidstone. That’s because of the sound Fortress Madonna produce. 'One Hundred Beacons'is a collection of guitar led British pop/rock, although in keeping with the label’s roots there are distinct sounds of Australia’s The Go Betweens here and there as well, most notably on ‘Volga’. Perhaps because there 16 contributors making Fortress Madonna more of a collective than a group, there is plenty of variety here. There is sensitive balladry on ‘The D Connection’, (apparently written about the suspicious death of Tom’s sister; no, I don’t know who Tom is either but it’s all part of Alex’s story and with him gone missing will we ever know?) and there is also a slice of classic Brit pop in the shape of ‘Life From Stone’. The vocals throughout the album, although sounding pretty unique, have sounded very familiar at times and it is on this track that I finally realised that they are a curious blend of Jarvis Cocker and Liam Gallagher's. It doesn't matter if the press release is not to be believed 100% about Alex’s experiences. It’s been a while and I reckon it will be a while longer before we will hear another album which can go from the punkish ‘Outside Is Fine Through These Glasses Of Mine’, to ‘On A Clear Day I Can See Tomorrow’ with such ease. The latter song sounds like the song Noel Gallagher has been struggling to write for a while now. Then to confuse matters more they end with the pop ballad ‘Swerve To Collapse’, with lyrics straight out of the Ray Davies / Chris Difford school of writing. If melodic guitar driven music is your current thing, but you wouldn’t want to listen to a whole album of it in one go, then give Fortress Madonna a try. With the diversions they take along the way; punk, the jangle of ‘Shine’, the acoustic and all too short ‘Diminish’, it’s an album that is impossible to categorise. 'One Hundred Beacons' is best listened to loudly in the car. Respect must go to Laughing Outlaw Records for releasing such a varied and surprising album, which is so unlike anything else on its roster.

Track Listing:-
1 Serikov
2 Fastest Loser
3 Speedo Chill
4 Volga
5 Shine
6 Diminish
7 Hit the Ground
8 The 'd' Connection
9 Life From Stone
10 Outside Is Fine Through These Glasses of Mine
11 On a Clear Day, I Can See Tomorrow
12 Swerve to Collapse

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