The Flaming Stars

Pathway

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    8
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By 1999, the Flaming Stars had been dishing out gritty, rough, and romantic tunes for a good five years; they weren't about to change a winning formula. Pathway offers everything a fan could hope for: distorted keyboards, nonchalant, supercool vocals, ragged guitars, merciless rhythms, and, most importantly, an impressive set of songs. The Stars make it sound easy, pulling 16 blistering trash & roll numbers from their backpockets as if nothing were more natural. The album opens with an absolute punisher called, appropriately, "Breaking Down." An evil guitar phrase twists and turns on this track for a couple of bars before meeting up with singer Max Decharne's foreboding intonations; the frenzied rhythm section and twisted organ lines quickly bring the song to a fever pitch. "Only Tonight" doesn't slow things down one whit, but this time there's actually a beautiful melody being handed to you, albeit in a confrontational, antisocial manner. Drummer Joe Whitney has always been on the verge of seizure behind the drumkit; with this number he proves that his passionate mania hasn't abated in the slightest. The album moves along quite comfortably, switching from creepy cinematic numbers to emotive, surprisingly catchy anthems. Of course, no album from a band of menacingly charming London-based boozers would be complete without its fair share of gorgeous, aching ballads, and Pathway does not disappoint. "Malice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" melds echoing drum hits and expressive guitar and organ phrases with Decharne's throaty, almost whispered vocals. The despair of every cynical has-been/never-was can be felt as he sings, "The clock on the wall says you're wasting your time/too lazy to work, too wise for crime/good times came knockin' but you bolted the door/whatever you wanted is not here anymore." Like the singer's former band, the ferocious Gallon Drunk (he was the drummer during the group's formative years), the Flaming Stars aren't afraid of dark alleyways, dingy bars in bad parts of town, and their own possibly corrupt and corroded souls. Thank goodness.

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