While Massive Attack wisely didn't have a complete clone of theirs be the first act on their Melankolic label, Alpha still clearly follows in the footsteps of the Bristol masters. The same sense of smoky late-night blues and vibes, subtle tension and weird beauty abound, but while Massive cranks up the ominous paranoia, Alpha favors a softer, driftier approach, a touch more user-friendly but as a result a bit less distinct. For what it is, though, Heaven is quite fine, a gently queasy blend of sounds and styles that manages to be tasteful and downright romantic without being airbrushed soul. Opening track "My Things" sets the tone cleverly, blending an orchestral sample from a Percy Faith take on Bacharach and David's "The April Fools" into a layered wash of keyboards and soft pulses that is at once easy listening and slightly off. Bacharach/David interpretations are actually a touchstone throughout the album, being sampled on at least four different tracks. The Shara Nelson equivalent for the album is Wendy Stubbs, who has a fine contralto that purrs around about half the album's songs, including "Rain" and the wittily entitled "Nyquil." At points the production gives her a distinct Beth Gibbons flavor as well, "Slim" being especially noticeable on this front. On the Horace Andy side of things, Martin Barnard has a soft, higher vocal range than most; it is at once soothing and quietly entrancing, a good choice for the songs he works on, including "Sometime Later" and "Back," the latter of which intriguingly mixes both another Bacharach/David sample and a snippet of Sylvia Plath reading her poetry into the music. When the duo fully stretches its collage/sampling muscles, as on the title track, it can be quite breathtaking, a careful balance between chaos and atmospherics. Heaven makes for a fine start to Alpha's career -- definitely a band to watch for.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett