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Marc Almond - Stardom Road

Stardom Road is the first Marc Almond release since his near fatal motorcycle accident that left Almond in a coma for two weeks. As recent press testifies he's still not fully recovered but on the basis of his version of the Charles Aznavour song 'I Have Lived', it's obvious that he's making the most of his time here. Like much of Stardom Road it positively bristles with glorious over-the-top treatments swathed in strings and orchestral passages. His brush with death has clearly left him reflective, as the selection of songs on Stardom Road chart his biography and personal obsessions. It ranges from the well known to the obscure, and touches upon aspects of his musical history.

You'd think the neon-city lights and guttertrash of 'London Boys' and 'Bedsetter Images' were Almond originals, not reworkings of tracks by David Bowie and Al Stewart. There's an almost 60s English feel to them, something Marc hasn't really toyed with since Soft Cell. The same goes for his gorgeous take on Dusty Springfield's 'I Close My Eyes and Count To Ten', redolent of the sixties girl group sound, sweetened here by the sugary Englishness of Sarah Cracknell of Saint Etienne. The guitar twang of 'Dream Lover' takes its cues from the David Lynch and Kenneth Anger sprinkled with a bit of the Paris Sisters and Roy Orbison.

Almond's version of 'Strangers In The Night' is an intimate twilight reading of the standard. In much the same fashion Almond and Antony Hegarty (of the Johnsons) combine on 'The Ballad of the Sad Young Men'. Antony's quavering tones a tremulous foil to Almond's solid croon as their voices entwine over tinkering barroom piano and late night muted trumpets. The quiet intimacy of these tracks are poles apart from the the explosive glam workout 'Kitsch', with its camp day-glo colours and disco strings.

His voice has never sounded stronger, holding notes like never before. 'Backstage (I'm Lonely)', his tribute to the late Gene Pitney, and 'Happy Heart' are filled with a melancholic optimism. As is 'Redeem Me (Beauty Will Redeem The World)' the sole Almond penned lyric capturing a contented individual finally resolved to the person who he is and what he seeks in life.

To call these selection of songs interpretations or label Stardom Road a collection of cover versions would do Almond a grand injustice. He inhabits these songs with such verve and gusto, they, for the most part, become Marc Almond songs. There's a passion here, the sound of someone who has lived their life through these songs. Stardom Road is by far his most accessible release. At times its nostalgic and decidely middle of the road, and miles away from the sombre reworkings of Brel and others that he's tackled in his post Soft Cell career. But Stardom Road marks a bold and brash return for Marc Almond, and, I for one, am glad to have him back. For more information go to www.marcalmond.co.uk/stardomroad/ or www.sanctuaryrecords.co.uk