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Trembling Blue Stars - A Certain Blue Light

  by David McNamee

published: 12 / 5 / 2003

Trembling Blue Stars - A Certain Blue Light


The Trembling Blue Stars are about to consolidate their position "as The Great Nineties Pop Band That Never Happened’ with a Best Of or Greatest Near-Hits. David McNamee looks back over their career and finds an odd resemblance in it to Kylie Minogue's

With rumours of their demise, or at least some sort of further remove from notoriously revered indie icon-hood - a positive process of disintegration or streamlining of sorts -swirling in the Springtime mists, now would seem an appropriate time to consolidate Trembling Blue Stars’ position as The Great Nineties Pop Band That Never Happened’ with a Best Of or Greatest Near-Hits. ‘A Certain Evening Light’ instead, however, collates the group’s non-album EP tracks and B-sides, from the 7” version of their epochal debut, (cat: shink1) ‘ABBA On The Jukebox’, to last year’s shrug of a hinted farewell, ‘Slow Soft Sighs’. As a collection, ‘…Evening Light’ - unlike, for instance, Black Box Recorder’s sardonically, if appropriately, titled ‘The Worst Of…’ B-sides compilation - represents The Great Lost Album of one of our greatest and certainly most lost bands. The music Trembling Blue Stars remind me of most is Kylie during her Minogue’-era – before she was reanimated as an ass-wielding hologram disco redeemer; before she was killed off by ‘Smash Hits’, met Andy Warhol in pop heaven and realised all Kylie is is a brand name, like ‘Cif’ or Twix. ‘Slow Soft Sighs’ is essentially Minogue’s forgotten summer lament, ‘Put Yourself In My Place’, drunk on memory (or regret, or ‘Regret’) and foreign literature. It confirms TBS’s pop (rather than the (oxy)moronic ‘indiepop’ – as trite and self-defeating a notion as the equally revolting ‘punkpop’) credentials. This album is a rundown of a Top 20 (well, Top 18…) that never happened. Chart music made by people who don’t have to know, or care about, who is at Number 1 to understand that it represents a mythical (myths are the most important component of pop music, ‘Fame Academy’ fans) benchmark of quality to which they must constantly strive to attain. These songs were written for radio. They were meant to be experienced seeping into the nation’s daytime consciousness. We know this because frontman Bob Wratten’s inventory of iconography – train trips, Christmases, “rain-soaked kisses” - positions the songs as thought bubbles for real life photo love stories coursing through their motions everyday around us. I once kissed a girl, passionately, on the ramparts of a decaying castle tower on the top of a hill where giraffes and flamingoes lived. We weren’t in love, not really. We hated each other just enough to wind the spring that little bit tighter so that when it finally snapped fingers were lost in the recoil. We were lonely and hollow (and shallow) enough to pour romantic iconoclasm into holes where there should, by rights, only have been guilt and seething mistrust (and sadness). We both must have wanted to have been kissed to death (on top of a castle) by someone who knew you inside out. Did it make it more or less genuine that it was on a freezing cold day in Dudley against a backdrop of Birmingham smog and Walsall misery? We both wanted to fall in love with our best friend. Excuse the collapse into twee reverie, but here obvious - to an almost adolescent extent (note: not a misplaced attempt to willfully preserve one’s innocence… music with such a thorough and explicit knowledge of sadness and pain and the damage wrecked by the human heart does not occur through faux-naivety and twee affectations… it simply speaks the wisdom of poets and prophets in an uncomplicated and unashamedly romantic use of language and the likes of Nick Cave should take note) – images are deployed with strategic significance; these are postcard picture symbols that we can decode painlessly, these are shared Fisher-Price slide-visor memories. A brief key to Trembling Blue Stars lyrics and imagery: Cathedrals = lost days out together, holding hands; archetypal architectural beauty used to cocoon a beauty outgrowing itself; a symbol of appealing to something greater than the both of you, an iconic surrender to devotion. Lighthouses = loneliness, lonely as a lighthouse keeper. Definitely NOT phallic. Ok, so the surface impression doesn’t give one of sliding any deeper than stating elemental twee-truisms - rainbows live in puddles, epiphanies occur at bus stops – but in our Top Twenty this is a pop semiology on a par with Barthes, or Myleene Farmer at least. Perhaps tellingly, TBS are the only band so far that have been allowed to break Shinkansen’s cherished ‘no portraits of females on the cover’ rule (not a misogyny thing, a political statement against the aesthetic favoured by winsome poet boys of reducing women to ethereal and untouchable objects – a conceit as misogynistic and vulgar as painting them as walking boobs). Although the female in question was a band member, she was also muse for the majority of the lovetorn numbers. The cover of ‘A Certain Evening Light’, naturally, is a lighthouse gazing out to a recoiling sea, at sunset. The music Trembling Blue Stars remind me of most is Joy Division. “ABBA On The Jukebox” (pop philosophers Freaky Trigger’s 15th best single– inbetween ‘Unfinished Sympathy’ and Thieves - of the 1990s… because it is) stalks those same streets and moves like a ghost. It’s supercharged pop music, like JD, driven, haunted – but more contemplative, moving at an almost infinitely slower pace – stung by and in love enough with life to let it leave scars rather than burn a hole straight through. ‘ABBA…’, like the closing suite of ‘Closer’, is a series of snapshots, fragments burnt into a permanent Now; it’s just the photography is courtesy of Holger and Diana, lightleaking plastic rather than see-through-time kirilian. “I want to be known inside out, by someone I’m always thinking about…” I’d kiss Bob Wratten just to see if my theory can be proved that he sings like he kisses. “What do I want? A best friend I’m in love with.” This is fighter music – in the way that people want Kylie to be with all their hearts, in the way that Joy Division wasn’t. These are songs for shy and brittle boxers - they bruise easily. Eczema pop – only with eczema as a heart disease rather than a skin condition. Elegant, elegiac pop with a butterfly wing-thin skin.

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Trembling Blue Stars - A Certain Blue Light

Trembling Blue Stars - A Certain Blue Light

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Interview Part 4 (2007)
Trembling Blue Stars - Interview Part 4
In the fourth and last part of his extensive interview with Bobby Wratten and Beth Arzy from Trembling Blue Stars, Anthony Strutt talks to them about the reissue of their entire back catalogue and why they have decided to abandon live work
Interview Part 3 (2006)
Interview Part 2 (2006)
Part 1 (2006)
Interview with Bobby Wratten (2002)

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