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Nine Lives
Artist: Alien Envy
Label: Self-Possessed Records
Time: 9 Tracks / 33 minutes

There are plenty of plus-points in this release, tempered by several concerns. The live collection, which went under the name Gestation while in development, is the result of experimenting over nine months with different arrangements of some twenty songs that were destined to become a new album. Each last Wednesday of the month from September 2009, Alien Envoy (actually Nick Kelly, former front man of The Fat Lady Sings) invited musical friends to perform a show at Dublin’s Whelan’s. At May’s final show, he brought back many of the collaborators and gave a copy of the live highlights to the crowd. 

In the end, those highlights became the album. With some astute pointing-out-the obvious-option by producer and singer-songwriter Boo Hewerdine, Kelly decided that the best of the live recordings had a beauty that would not be bettered in the studio. The process is explained more here.

Whether Kelly is right about this is the key question of the release. There certainly are highlights and frissons of emotional connection that may have been practiced out in a studio setting. The opener “Donnybrook,” for example, is threaded along a shining wire of reverbed piano with a dash of synth; “Everything’s Wrong” and “Kingfisher Blue” benefit from the backing of a string section; and “Untidy” is a lovely duet with Briana Corrigan, a fragile negotiation of love. It is doubtful whether this would have been bettered in the studio and the live atmosphere doubtlessly added to the visceral edge that these songs display.

However, there are several flaws, largely vocal ones from Kelly himself, which would have been sorted in a studio, where the sonics could have been given as layered or sparse a treatment as necessary. As the link above admitted, the decision was largely a matter of finance. Ideally, this would be a bonus disc in a deluxe edition of a ten-to-twelve-song album (but I don’t have to fund the project). 

However presented, one of the strongest features of the collection (besides his fans’ involvement at various stages, such as the album images) is Kelly’s ingenious lyrical ideas. Who else would compare his all-out efforts in love with the tennis playing style of Arthur Ashe? And “Anaesthetic” tells the story of a man working through the pain of a failed relationship, using clear imagery and the neat line, “Everyday I take courage / then my courage takes flight.”

Despite another neat refrain (“Hey Joe, Louie Louie, Geno, Gloria”) and several song name-checks, the riffy paean to vinyl singles “45,” which features the old band, seems to trample over the appealing fragility of the previous four songs. It may be that in a longer studio-made disc, this could have been better accommodated.

So this has great words and ideas, sometimes brilliantly presented, but also suffers from the flipside of flawed performances, a few weak melodies and a somewhat mean playing time.

Download: Donnybrook, Untidy, and possibly Kingfisher Blue

Derek Walker


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