Marc Almond: ‘The Stars We Are’ revisited

❉ Ange Chan reviews the reissued classic album, with insights from percussionist Steven Humphreys.

“This album was an amalgamation of the proverbial blood, sweat and tears by the musicians and by Marc, but accompanied by many special memories, and it has achieved its ultimate place in the annals of musical recordings as being one to be particularly proud of.”

In 1988, Marc Almond released The Stars We Are, his brilliant fourth studio album which featured the last studio recording by German singer/actress and Velvet Underground legend, Nico who sang with Marc on Your Kisses Burn. It’s a clumsy but beautiful cacophony which seems artfully thrown together, as the drug-addled Nico stumbles over her lyrics with her voice of gravel and passion. Somehow it works wonderfully though, rendering a mesmerising track on this landmark album. Not long afterwards on 16 July 1988 she sadly died in Ibiza, in a cycling accident. The album reached 41 in the UK album chart but its cited as his most commercially successful solo album in both the UK and US in terms of highest selling and was offered a ‘certified silver’ award by the BPI.

Produced by Bob Kraushaar and released by Some Bizarre on the Parlophone label in the UK and Capitol in North America, The Stars We Are marked the end of the experimentation of his ’80s musical projects such as Marc and the Mambas, The Immaculate Consumptives and Raoul and the Ruined before he ‘went serious’ with his next album release in 1989 with Jacques, an album of interpret songs written and sung by Jacques Brel. At the same time, the album’s commercial success also launched a brand new chapter in Almond’s career, leading to not only Jacques, but also to 1990’s Enchanted with cover artwork by Pierre et Gilles, and 1991’s Tenement Symphony, an orchestrated album containing classical instrumental interludes.

In January 2021, The Stars We Are is being given a big re-issue by Cherry Red featuring two CDs (the original album plus B-sides, and a CD of remixes of the album tracks) and a DVD compilation plus a glossy 35-page booklet with lyrics, photos and a foreword by acclaimed poet Jeremy Reed, who also wrote Marc’s biography. This will surely delight fans new and old as The Stars We Are is a much loved landmark album of Marc’s.

The album opens with the title track, a jolly upbeat number filled with positivity and hope, conversely moving into These My Dreams Are Yours where Marc croons his way through the song, making you feel as though he is singing directly to you, the listener. The third track is the single Bitter-Sweet, again offering positivity not traditionally associated with a Marc Almond song. 

Track 5 is the aforementioned Your Kisses Burn, the first of two duets on this album. The Very Last Pearl is a declaration of love offering a lover ‘I’ll give you the most valuable thing in the world’. It’s a sensual song which lends itself to the exotic side of Marc’s nature.

Another single follows, Only the Moment a poignant track recommending the listener to grasp your dreams before the moment is past. As it happens, this is one of my funeral songs of choice, offering a positive message wrapped up in the reality that nothing is around forever and that you should enjoy the moments in your life.

Following this, another single Tears Run Rings which was one of the more successful songs on the album reaching number 26 in the UK charts. However it didn’t reach the heady heights of Number 1 which Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart (duetted with the singer who had the original hit in 1967, with the legendary Gene Pitney). The song was Number 1 for four consecutive weeks in 1989, reaching a commercial zenith which Marc hadn’t seen since Tainted Love with Soft Cell at the beginning of the decade.

The Sensualist lives up to its title and is indeed a sensual song, which is like the musical pure liquid chocolate being dripped over a scantily clad body! The final track on the original album is She Took My Soul in Istanbul which is a fan favourite, but little heard track that transports you to where Europe meets Asia, with images of the Blue Mosque, hashish and all the associated exoticism that offers. 

On this reissue the B-sides of the singles are included, including The Frost Comes Tomorrow, Kept Boy a mini-operetta featuring Berliner singer and actress Agnes Bernelle in a witty but macabre tale of ‘paid for love’. Everything I Wanted Love to Be, King of Fools (which also features on Treasure Box, a collection of more obscure Marc Almond tracks) and ending on the re-issue with Real Evil.

Steven Humphreys, drummer and part of the close-knit collective of musicians formerly of The Willing Sinners, now reduced in number (to Steven, Anni Hogan and Billy McGee) and renamed La Magia, recalls many an enjoyable hour spent in the Matrix Studio crafting songs for the album. He said “I’m credited with adding to the mix, drums, percussion, programming, timpani and sampling. Along for the ride was a newly acquited Akai S900 sampler and sequencer/drum machine, so it was time to develop a new skill and jump into the digital age!”

Humphreys recalls one person in particular that has remained in ‘his grey matter’ after all these years, namely Matrix Studio’s engineer “par excellence” David Pine. Steven also recalls the basement of Matrix Studios with great fondness, not least his awe-struck moments of meeting Ari Up and Lee Scratch Perry in the studio’s communal areas. A little of the studio’s magic was wrapped up in the recording of the album, and Steven is “delighted that after 32 years and this re-release that the mighty songs within it are still permeating across the ether”.

The album came to its ultimate fruition at the ensuing live shows to promote the album which Steven recalls, he “completely enjoyed”. I was at the Manchester show, which holds special memories for me as it was the first time I met Marc, after the show. I also remember the PA system failing during the concert, and Marc continuing to sing Stories of Johnny, a capella, without missing a beat. What a trooper!

Disc Two offers alternative versions of most of the singles off the album including the famed Justin Strauss mixes of Bittersweet and Tears Run Rings, some of which were previously released on 12″ vinyl (etched versions or otherwise) which is a most welcome addition to this reissue. Disc Three presents six promotional videos for the singles off the album including Bitter-Sweet, directed by Tim Pope (Soft Cell, The Cure, David Bowie, Talk Talk) and the US version of Tears Run Rings which was directed by Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson of Coil/Throbbing Gristle fame.

The Stars We Are album was an amalgamation of the proverbial blood, sweat and tears by the musicians and by Marc, but accompanied by many special memories, and its achieved its ultimate place in the annals of musical recordings as being one to be particularly proud of. The re-issue brings all of Marc’s most popular singles, videos and remixes in one neat package and is truly something to treasure.

Disc One: Original Album Plus B-Sides

1. The Stars We Are
2. These My Dreams Are Yours
3. Bitter-Sweet
4. Only The Moment
5. Your Kisses Burn (Featuring Special Guest Star Nico)
6. The Very Last Pearl
7. Tears Run Rings
8. Something
s Gotten Hold Of My Heart (Featuring Special Guest Star Gene Pitney)
9. The Sensualist
10. She Took My Soul In Istanbul
11. The Frost Comes Tomorrow
12. Kept Boy (Featuring Special Guest Star Agnes Bernelle)
13. Everything I Wanted Love To Be
14. King Of The Fools
15. Real Evil

Disc Two: Alternate Versions

1. The Stars We Are (Full Length Mix)
2. Tears Run Rings (12” Version)
3. Bitter-Sweet (12” Version)
4. Only The Moment (All The Time In The World Mix)
5. These My Dreams Are Yours (Through The Night Mix)
6. Tears Run Rings (Justin Strauss Remix)
7. Bitter-Sweet (The Big Beat Mix)
8. The Sensualist (Ultimate Ecstasy Mix)
9. She Took My Soul In Istanbul (The Blue Mosque Mix)
10. Tears Run Rings (The ‘La Magia’ Dance Mix)
11. Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart (Solo Version)

DVD: Promotional Videos

1. Tears Run Rings
2. Bitter-Sweet
3. Something
s Gotten Hold Of My Heart (Featuring Special Guest Star Gene Pitney)
4. Only The Moment
5. The Stars We Are
6. Tears Run Rings (U.S. Version)

❉ Marc Almond:’ The Stars We Are’ 2CD/1DVD Expanded Edition (Cherry Pop QSFE085T) released January 22, 2021, by Cherry Records, RRP £19.99. CLICK HERE to order from Cherry Red. 

❉ Cherry Red Records have been releasing and reissuing the most innovative and independent thinking music since 1978. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

❉ Ange Chan is a freelance writer, having produced two novels and six volumes of poetry.  She was also prolific contributor in the anthology collection Me and the Starman, (now available by Cult Ink on Amazon) and is a lifelong lover of music, having first been published in the 1980s music press. As well as being a frequent contributor to the pop culture website We Are Cult, she is working on her long-standing third novel Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots.

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