The unlikely return of interstellar travelers willing to bring their previously un-unveiled saga to a glorious close.
An unreleased third platter from two decades ago that ties in – thematically and sonically – with a freshly recorded fourth one which are issued now as a double album by a band never really heard of: all this could sound like a ploy to prey on progressive rock aficionados who will surely fall for such a story, if only the search for STAR PEOPLE’s touring history didn’t bring verifiable results. The collective did exist – and, probably, still do, although the passing of their lead singer William Olland a few years ago may throw the ensemble’s further existence into question. But even if they went back to the 11th dimension, the very ground of the group’s cosmic trip.
It doesn’t matter that this voyage began in 2001 and ended in 2021 because, starting off with an arresting mini-epic “I, Starman” on the first disc and signing off with the old-timey, smoky, a cappella-flaunting “Exit, Stage Left” on the second, the songs on offer show a stunning continuity – as befits a space-placed narrative. There is a difference between old and new material, however, as the former use art-rock as a means to propel melodies along the storyline and the latter rely on stylistic trappings more than the tunes – fortunately, without losing their appeal. The record’s pieces, shrouded in Robert Dean’s fluctuating guitars and Scott Treibitz’s oscillating synthesizers and shot through with Lorenza Ponce’s vibrant violin and Randy Pratt‘s rumbling bass, see vocals passed from Olland to Paul Gifford and picked up by other musicians – including VANILLA FUDGE’s legends Tim Bogert and Vince Martell on the cover of THE BEATLES’ “A Day In The Life” – who often engage in vertiginous instrumental interplay. Otherwise, the retrofuturistic funky riffs of the wordless “Twister” and the belligerent stomp of “Twisted” wouldn’t feel simultaneously gripping and loose, and the expansive soulfulness of “Marriage In Space” would be lost, despite the presence of spoken word and Ponce’s folksy voice, in the number’s subsequent theatricality.
The histrionics are what makes humorous cuts like the piano-splashed “Queen Of Space” or the sax-smeared “The White & Black” irresistible, with shadows of Zappa and Bowie looming large – deliberately so – yet they undermine the heavy grind of “Hot Blue Star” contrasting the track’s classical ivories, while “Regal” – that the esteemed T.C. Tolliver’s drums and Pratt’s tectonic throb render ever-mighty – flies on the violin wings beyond a Vivaldi scope, into the metal of “Quantum” before teasing the listener with a faux-chaotic chant. The aural image is almost breaking apart on “The Pact” where the story’s spiritual undercurrent has a silver lining of pure prog arrangement, slightly superficial but impressive, yet Lorenza’s smoldering pipes behind “The Morning Star” take the hellish blues off interstellar route and lead the travelers closer to home.
If this is the end of STAR PEOPLE saga, there’s no better way to bid farewell.