Songs from the Mission of Hope
The Music Box's #3 album for 2003
First Appeared at The Music Box, December 2003, Volume 10, #12
Written by John Metzger
Prior to the release of Songs from the Mission of Hope, Stephen Harris had a career as a sideman, contributing his bass playing skills to heavy metal and hard rock acts such as The Cult, Guns Ní Roses, and the lesser known Zodiac Mindwarp & the Love Reaction ó all under the pseudonyms of Kid Chaos and Haggis. Suitably, Harris placed his real name upon his deeply personal debut Songs from the Mission of Hope, which surprisingly takes a singer/songwriter-oriented bent and reveals a man whose thoughts and ideas dig far deeper than the bands with which he most frequently has been associated.
However, this profound transformation didnít come without its cost. In order to get to where he is today, Harris suffered a severe bout of depression. At the suggestion of his doctor, he went in search of his birth mother, and after finding her, he discovered that she had been raised at The Mission of Hope orphanage in Croyden, England. It was this exploration of his familial history that served as the catalyst for pushing Harris back into the recording studio in order to lay down the ten tracks that became Songs from the Mission of Hope. While the album is conceptual in nature, itís not so much a straightforward storyline as it is a loosely-knit collection of snapshots and memories that touch upon the lives of Harris and his family. Indeed, without further insight, itís difficult to pinpoint exactly how all of the songs tie together, save for the overriding themes of lost love, pain, heartache, and the difficulty of coping with oneís emotions.
Not that it really matters whether there is a story arc or not. Songs from the Mission of Hope is an absorbing endeavor, and its songs are stunningly beautiful, flowing together in a way that gives the album a warm and inviting glow. Its gentle folk-pop melodies recall the tranquil transcendence of John Wesley Hardingís masterpiece Awake or The Who's FM-radio staple Behind Blue Eyes. Most interesting of all is the manner in which Harris reconstructs the songwriting style of XTC, turning the orchestrated pop of Mummer and Apple Venus, Volume 1 into something that is decidedly more roots-oriented. In other words, Songs from the Mission of Hope is not only an interesting twist in the career of Stephen Harris, itís also a welcome reminder that there is some truly tremendous music being made that lies far outside the realm of the major labels.
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box