Planet Painkiller

After all this time, it's somehow fitting that [a]Chris Starling[/a] has chosen a close-up photo of one of his eyes for the cover of his solo album...

It’s an old clichi but eyes really are the windows of the soul. They can tell tales more powerfully than any mouth, love and hate as fiercely as any gesture. So, after all this time, it’s somehow fitting that [a]Chris Starling[/a] has chosen a close-up photo of one of his eyes for the cover of his solo album. It’s his invitation in, proof he’s got nothing to hide now.

Chris, you see, has been around. A teen star in his native New Zealand, a touring musician with everyone from [a]Sisters Of Mercy[/a] to, erm, Babylon Zoo and, most notably, the frontman of heroin-fuelled angry young men, The Starlings. Their failure to set the world alight led Chris to disappear to Devon and, while figuring out what to do with his life and getting over the drugs, he came up with this.

‘Planet Painkiller’ is certainly a reflection of the circumstances from which it was born. Quiet and intensely intimate, the twisted fury of The Starlings has been replaced by a more subdued reflection. Chris is older and probably wiser but he still uses music to purge his demons. And, bizarrely, it’s even more listenable now it doesn’t feel quite so life-or-death.

That’s largely thanks to his softly laid-back vocals. Somewhere between a mellow Lou Reed and a wistful Bob Dylan, Chris is unhurried and almost deadly in his softness. It comes as no surprise, then, to realise how many of these acoustic-based songs skirt round the subjects of suicide, murder and deception. ‘Planet Painkiller’ has clearly been inspired by a bleak vision of the world but, perhaps thanks to that time in Devon, it somehow ends up sounding surprisingly positive. In the charmingly simple ‘Bobby Slaughter Saw The Light’, for instance, suicide is embraced as a welcome escape. Elsewhere, through the gorgeous strains of harmonica in ‘The Word’ and the barely-there beauty of ‘Tender’, a glimmer of hope shines through.

In fact, Chris could no doubt manage without the music to help him get by now. But let’s hope he doesn’t want to.

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