Trembling Blue Stars
Broken by Whispers
First Appeared at The Music Box, October 2000, Volume 7, #10
Written by Michael Karpinski
Is there a woman alive on this planet who hasn't at some time or another had to grapple with a guy like Robert Wratten? Less a man than a Venus flytrap — equal measure O.J. Simpson and Cyrano de Bergerac — this is the sort of serially sentimental sap who steadfastly refuses to accept that the relationship has sailed. As insidious as he is systematic, he begins by strategically laying siege to your answering machine — tearfully reading Sidney's sonnets and Marvell's reply to the shy and non-pliant. Next comes the steady stream of carnations, chrysanthemums, and Candy-Grams; the Dostoyevskian-lengthed letters begging for clemency and second chances; and the elaborately bubblewrapped origami swans and crystal sylphs meant to represent his delicate, almost feminine, sensitivities. He is relentless. Shameless. Utterly unfazed by restraining orders; stun guns; stalker laws. He broods. Moons. Mopes. Moans. Slinks. Clings. And yes, he sings — in a voice dripping with nasal heartache and exquisite self-pity (think New Order's Bernard "1963 " Sumner mated with the Monkees' Davy "I Wanna Be Free" Jones). For the past four years Wratten, who was formerly the lead singer for the short-lived yet semi-legendary Field Mice and Northern Picture Library, has been plying his one-man, wallow-in-woe dog-and-pony show under the guise of Trembling Blue Stars.
Unlike 1996's pretty-but-petrified Her Handwriting and 1998's only slightly less lifeless Lips that Taste of Tears, Broken by Whispers actually manages to kick up a little dust. Sometimes I Still Feel the Bruise is the hands-down highlight — an effortless and affecting lament that benefits from the honeyed harmony vocals of Wratten's ex-mate and muse, Annemari Davies. To Leave It Now essentially serves as an extended coda to that gentle gem, but with an even bolder bassline and spoken French counterpoint vocals providing just the right jolt of je ne sais quoi. Sleep is hypnotic, vampire-casket pop-goth (something that would have felt right at home huddling in the dusk of Depeche Mode's Violator or the Cure's Disintegration); Snow Showers sounds like Tears For Fears covering Smashing Pumpkins; and I No Longer Know Anything makes shrewd use of acoustic guitar and that most mournful of man-made instruments — the ever-lamentable cello.
Gorgeously forlorn as Broken By Whispers often is, there are times when one can't help but be tempted to grab Mr. Wratten by his lachrymose lapels and slap him to his senses. If only his friends or family would chip in to buy this guy a lapdance — or if he took it upon himself to adopt a tender tabby for companionship — he might just manage to break free from this fallow funk and get on with the daily business of existence. After all, isn't that pretty much what all the rest of us serially sentimental saps do when we get our hearts torn from their moorings, trashed, trampled, and cast like so much bleeding meat to the unfeeling Fates? ½
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2000 The Music Box