Life after Britpop has been kind to some and cruel to others. The Bluetones didn't do too badly as they continued all through the 00's with a faithful fanbase in tow, but had to make do without any hit singles and TV appearances after 2003. Deciding that they had done as much as they could, the band called it a day with a triumphant 'lap of honour' tour in 2011. Frontman Mark Morriss certainly doesn't seem lost without his former bandmates on his new solo album, where his ear for infectious melodies remains very much intact. It's just as enjoyable as his former band's work and contains some of his all-time greatest moments. Although 'A Flash Of Darkness' is his first post-Bluetones outing, his solo debut was a folk-infused record from 2008 called 'Memory Muscle', a low key affair that seemed more like a relaxed side project. Now, with all his creative energy going into his solo work, his new one is definitely a more assured and full bodied work that will undoubtedly please all Bluetones fans, and an album strong and confident enough to also win him new converts.
The opening title track demonstrates his dazzling ability to conjure up dark edged power pop belters, this one played against a backdrop of moody flamenco flavours and Mariachi horns. The bright arrangements across these songs suggest Morriss has been thinking about how to fill the spaces left by the absence of his old bandmates, and the new ingredients are indeed something to relish. After all, as the man sang himself back in the 90s: "no problem should be faced without a little charm and a lot of style". Morriss skilfully and instinctively applies plenty of both throughout this excellent LP. The bittersweet beauty 'Consuela' is bursting full of charming pop hooks and lyrics that mix sadness with humour, brilliantly using TV detective Bergerac as a metaphor for someone staying on his case. 'Guilty Again' is firmly up there with the many highlights of his career, combining an energetic rhythm with wonderful acoustic arpeggios and sweet synth before hitting hard with the surging emotional urgency of its top notch chorus. The dark swing of 'It's Hard To Be Good All The Time' provides another Morriss classic and launches into a hugely enjoyable barroom piano solo during the bridge.
A confident rendition of The Shins' 'Pink Bullets' could easily be an original MM composition if you weren't aware of the original, an example of how he always makes a song his own. Another of the album's high points is the superb 'Low Company', where Mark comes face to face with his regrets and past misdemeanours via a shady, sombre verse and a direct, irresistible chorus, while the brightly alluring 'Life Without Friction' puts an upbeat tune to a charmingly sad undercurrent, delivering another one of the many stand out tracks here. A quietly reflective story of denial and delusion, the dreamy acoustic 'This Is The Lie (And That's The Truth', playfully alternates the length of the wordless spaces during the verses to great effect and following it, the quirky, subtly electronic indie singalong of 'Space Cadet' is another beaming smile of a tune. After Kavinsky's electro pop nugget 'Nightcall' is given a deliciously shadowy acoustic-driven makeover that casts an even more unsettlingly dramatic atmosphere than the original, a brilliant LP like this deserves to finish on a spectacular ending, and so it does with the awesome 'Sleep Song' where a gentle, harmonious verse meets the full uproar of another storming chorus before chiming guitars accompany unexpected saxophone, lifting it further into the zone of magnificence.
It seems that carrying on by himself has gifted Mark Morriss a whole new lease of life, and 'A Flash Of Darkness' has confirmed him to be a great solo artist in his own right. Out of all the musical figures who emerged in the 90s, here is one still very much on top form. And he's certainly showing the more recent crop of guitar bands how memorable indie pop is done.