by Mike Corrigan
In "The Ghost of an Unkissed Kiss" Trembling Blue Stars' Bob Wratten bemoans a love abandoned before the complexities of a long-term relationship had a chance to set in: "We found what so many seek but it was never ours to keep. It will always be perfect but we didn't get to live it." It's sad and full of remorse but redeeming as well in its up-tempo drive and in the realization that "These are the words we'll pack away. These are the feelings that will stay." The song represents a modest departure for Wratten who, as leader (and at times sole member of) Trembling Blue Stars has made a career out of exploring the many facets of heartbreak, longing and obsession.
Wratten is a South London romantic with a flair for writing lovely and excruciatingly personal odes to life's sweetest torment. In the past, his muse came in the form of ex-girlfriend/ ex-bandmate, Annemari Davis (of the Field Mice and Northern Picture Library).
With Alive to Every Smile, Wratten seems to be slowly pulling out of the emotional tailspin that made early TBS works Her Handwriting, Lips that Taste Tears and Broken By Whispers (all more or less documenting his breakup with Davis) such beautiful agony. Even the title seems to belie a renewed interest in life's possibilities.
Musically, the album is a restatement of the band's strengths: crisp, ringing guitars, atmospheric keyboard fills, intriguing beats, Wratten's soft, detached vocals and an ambience that leads to inevitable early Cure/ Cocteau Twins comparisons. Improvements include real drums on several tracks and a newfound sonic depth that is surely the result of new additions to the TBS fold.
The occasional lull or overly anguished sentiment notwithstanding, Alive to Every Smile is shimmering with exquisite melancholy and an almost unexpected -- though certainly welcomed -- sense of hope.