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Colin Masson - The Southern Cross CD (album) cover

THE SOUTHERN CROSS

Colin Masson

 

Crossover Prog

3.56 | 31 ratings

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TheGazzardian
Prog Reviewer
4 stars In 2009, Colin Masson released The Mad Monk and the Mountain, an album that, once it's existence was known, gained many well-deserved fans. Enough so that Colin, who had considered "Mad Monk" to be somewhat of a farewell and had decided to record no more, has made a complete about-face and followed up with The Southern Cross.

Perhaps because he has found an audience and knows he can continue to make music now - or perhaps because this album is composed of songs that Colin wrote many years ago during his heyday in The Morrigan - it lacks the intensity of Mad Monk. Instead, we get a more relaxed feeling, although that really is a relative statement. Tracks like South Australia carry with them a fair amount of intensity, from the deep, layered chanting vocals in the background, to the ponderous and purposeful instrumentation (with a slight nautical feel to it) that makes me think (intentionally, I am sure), of men rowing a large ship. But there are tracks - such as the opening to side A, Never Come Back, that don't quite have the sophistication of some of the better tracks on the album.

The album is a concept album about two ships named The Southern Cross, both of which come to unfortunate ends. As such, the album is split into a side A (about the first ship) and side B (about the second ship). As a nice twist, the ships are separated by a few hundred years and the second is actually a starship. This gives the two sides a distinct identity, with side A having more of a sea-shanty feel at times, whereas side B comes across as more modern and techy.

Instrumentally this album is much as you could expect after hearing Mad Monk. The guitar lines are clean and melodic, yet full of rich texture supported by the keyboards and occasional recorder that really help build up the sense of a scene. There is no doubt that Colin can play his guitar, and there are a couple of points where he "lets loose" for a moment or two, but it's always in the context of what works for the song and never just wankery. He is just as likely to let his guitar wail sorrowfully or groan ponderously, depending on the mood of the song. There is some truly beautiful work on this album, such as the last track on Side A, Compass Rose, which comes across as both sorrowful and beautiful. It always brings to my mind the aftermath of a ship being destroyed - starting with the ship slowly sinking under the surface of the ocean, but ending with the stillness and peacefulness of the wide open sea. It's like a calamity from the point of view of the ocean - a moment of turbulence followed by things being as they ever were.

The reality is that this album is mostly synthetic, with the recorder, voice, and the guitar being the only "real" instruments, and keyboards and programming providing the textural elements. The guitar does tend to lead more as a result, but the reality is that this album in no way suffers. Colin has a great ear for being both tasteful and effective in his sound chases and compositions with the synthetic instruments, and they always fit naturally into the music.

Storywise, I find the first side to be more coherent, possibly just because it's broken into smaller pieces (the second side is 3 tracks compared to the 5 of side 1). There is also the nice change of pace in The Wreckers, when once again Colins wife, Cathy Alexander, lends her voice to the project.

The second side is a bit more paranoid, at least from the listeners perspective rather than the characters, with lines like "I believe in everything they tell me (we are the chosen few), everything they tell me must be true (watching over you)", which reeks of the characters being manipulated. It also contains the highest energy tracks on the album. Again, this is a demonstration of the skill building atmosphere Colin has, the energy here making me think of swarms of humans running around this ship, making sure everything is working well as it hurtles through space towards its eventual target, versus the relatively slow-paced feel of the first half that matched the feeling of the ocean.

In terms of overall quality, I would say this album ranks just below Mad Monk, but given how amazing that album was, coming this close again is no small feat. And really, this album is more cohesive than Mad Monk, it simply does not reach the heights of the best moments off of that album.

Definitely a worthy listen.

TheGazzardian | 4/5 |

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