Fortress Madonna

One Hundred Beacons

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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger

The debut album from Fortress Madonna is an emotional, politically charged bottle rocket, full of Oasis-like sneering and Posies-like harmonies. Named after a symbol of hope drawn on the back of a map for the German soldiers fighting in Stalingrad, the record exudes defiance reminiscent of early U2. Reluctant leader (and former Russian Olympic gymnast and KGB agent) Alexander Serikov, whose only credit on the record is cello, leads a rotating 11-member band through the beautiful, heartbreaking, and excruciatingly unfair world around him. Serikov, who died in March 2002 while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, was, to say the least, an enigma. Like Joe Strummer before him, he adopted a religiously global view of society and applied it to his songwriting, all the while leaving a trail of myth that few have been able to piece together. Beginning with "Serikov" (unrelated), a fuzzy, guitar-fueled romp about a real-life World War II vet who ends up freezing to death while begging beneath a Kremlin underpass, the band rips through ten more tunes without abandon. "Speedo Chill" sounds like an angrier James and the brutal "Shine" could be an outtake from Julian Cope's Peggy Suicide. Halfway through, the tunes begin treading water, losing the dangerous ebb and flow of the first six tracks and veering into stale Brit-pop territory before being rescued by the beautiful "Swerve to Collapse." With instrumentation ranging from the standard four-piece rock setup to trumpet, sax, violin, and balalaika, Fortress Madonna is surprisingly lean on the arrangements, enabling them to convey a lyrical presence often underplayed by similar bands. One Hundred Beacons is an ambitious mess, and, unfortunately, an unintended memorial to a mysterious man soon to become a cult hero.

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