Justin Sullivan
Navigating By The Stars
2003
C



is that the guy from New Model Army escaping on a ship with his acoustic guitar? Why yes, it is! Hopefully he realises that clogs don’t provide the most appropriate deck-wear. Err... because I’m such an expert on nautical matters, obviously. In any case, Navigating By The Stars bears little resemblance to an NMA album; there are no songs here about vigilante justice for Nazi war-criminals, because they’ve all been replaced by songs about the sea. You can’t administer vigilante justice at sea with any degree of style unless you are a pirate and, despite looking the part, Sullivan does not sing “Yarr!” at any point. Nor “Yo / Ho / Ho”. And if he’d included lyrics about swabbing poopdecks, I’d have opened with a frightfully crass joke about it. Moving on.

Everyone here likes caramel, right? Great! Working your way through this album can sometimes resemble attempting a slow back-stroke through something akin to thick molasses. This is, perhaps, an effort to enhance the ocean theme even further; encouraging the listener to plow on through, as a ship’s bow might cut through murky fog. Except that makes it sound like more of a chore than it really is. In truth, the production manages to convey the sense in which the sea can provide feelings of both vastness and suffocation rather superbly.

“Twilight Home” is a typically gloopy construct, ebbing and flowing with gradually building undulations. The tide is taking us. There’s no turning back until journey’s end. Fortunately it seems we’re well stocked with provisions, because someone keeps proudly shaking a biscuit barrel as impromptu percussion. More excellent flourishes emerge from the introduction to “Ocean Rising” as a familiar BBC voice drifts through the spray; I think we should all reserve a certain sense of admiration for any musician who includes samples from the Radio 4 Shipping Forecast on their album. In fact, I’m starting work on a concept album based around classic farming soap-opera The Archers right away.

Just as the anger of Sullivan’s main project is placed to one side, the ocean rarely rages on this record. Gentle froths and hushed washes of sound are paramount. Lay back in your cabin, it proclaims. Listen to the hushed tones of the swelling waves. Wiggle your toes in lazy contemplation. Float aimlessly until you forget. Delicate acoustic work accentuates these feelings, punctuated by touches of strings and quiet organ. The title track is a duvet of clouds in a cabin of billowing warmth. Drifting...

I can see Sullivan idly relaxing on deck, plucking out some gentle songs as the breeze picks up. If we so choose, we can listen as we follow the waves. And it’s all rather lovely.



Reviewed by: Peter Parrish
Reviewed on: 2004-05-21
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