Ever since the Captain strode onto the stage at Whitby Steampunk Weekend, I’ve been avidly following his moves. Waiting fervently for a copy of his album to review for the Journal. It’s finally arrived and I’ve spent the last two weeks letting the Captain’s smooth operatic voice slide into my ears.
Hidden Gems by Captain of the Lost Waves costs £12.00 and is available from the main website.
The album cover is a monochrome artist’s paradise of nautical and mystical themed art work. The Captain’s unmistakable profile silhouetted holds centre-stage. Interestingly the words “Chapter I” appear in the bottom right corner which suggests maybe an extension of the album or maybe a follow-up in the same styles and subject matter.
The silhouette on the front cover suggests a mysterious character and that’s quite true to form. All I know about him is that he’s from “the Wild Wild West of Yorkshire” as he so amusingly puts it. But he remains interestingly elusive that we don’t even know what town he’s from. With this ambiguous approach to his location, one could be forgiven for thinking he’s somewhat aloof. However his website and any online interactions suggest an amiable, compassionate and warm personality. Seemingly wise beyond his years, even the Captain’s off the cuff blog posts are enough to break out the Thesaurus. This approach to articulating such an obviously busy mind has transferred into the lyrics of Hidden Gems. But it’s not just the lyrics that are well thought out. You see anyone could arguably formulate a melody and backing track to go with some lyrics. But when you arrange a track to actually fit the theme of the song, that’s next level stuff.
That’s what the Captain has done with the opening track Grand National. The song is about life in general with observations about how we all run very different lives. But the rhythm of the song moves like the clip-clop of a horse. Rocking back and forth with the motion of a saddle. There are plenty of references to horse racing, and in particular the Grand National. Mentions such as the notorious Becher’s (Becher’s Brook fence) and the Chair as well as well-known horses such as Devon Loch. The latter being the horse in the 1956 Grand National. It was the clear winner until for some unknown reason it jumped into the air falling on its stomach. With 40 yards to go. That led to the second place horse winning.
While these notable mentions easily couple with other references such as Tipperary Tim (the 100-1 horse that won the 1928 Grand National when only one other horse managed to finish), ending up lame, neck and neck and photo finish provide a song laden with horse racing lingo, it’s done with a finesse not usually seen by other talented song writers. They tend to fail in the execution of this kind of thing, such as Lady Gaga’s Pokerface where the references to poker are stretched and garish.
Style & thoughts
The nine track album covers many different facets of life. With the nu-vaudeville style folk music, I can’t help but think that the Captain pondered these very topics on a warm September evening while moored in the fenlands, sitting atop his narrowboat smoking a pipe and watching the locals getting thrown out of the pub. These are the types of images conjured up in your mind as you listen to each thoughtful song after the other. Essentially, the Captain comes from a pre-industrialised Britain to tell us his stories. From people racing through life (Grand National) to the loss of critical thinking (Danger), to just simply wanting to remain in bed for the day and laze around (Happy in Bed). the Captain covers many aspects of life and echoes much of our own thoughts and observations.
The actual music is just as well thought out and been given the same attention to detail as the lyrics, album cover, artwork for the inlay, website and clearly every other part of the Captain’s persona. The folksy styles are similar in many respects to the earlier albums of Steam Powered Giraffe. But the album is unmistakably British in its content. While the actual topics can mean something to anyone in the world, the lack of the American twangy guitar and addition of accordion and flute bring it back home. Adding the Captain’s impressive voice to the music delivers a set of songs that will invoke a multitude of emotions. That includes humour as well. The album isn’t exactly dripping in comedy, but one of my favourite lines from the album comes from Mr Many Men where he quotes Chico Marx’s line “I wasn’t kissing her, I was whispering in her lips.”
With an average song running time of around the 5min 30sec mark, Mr Many Men sticks out like a sore thumb. At 28min 36sec long I wondered what the Captain could have to talk about for so long. However after the usual run time, the track keeps playing. After nearly ten minutes of silence we discover the “hidden gems”. Here are a collection of remixes including a gorgeous little Hawaiian number. These are arguably the hidden gems that the album alludes to. There’s also a copy of the Edith Piaf song that the Captain recently touted which features a video made by his son.
Hidden Gems album review conclusion
What to say about Hidden Gems that hasn’t already been said in this review? The Captain and his crew of brigands have taken the British steampunk scene by storm. The fact that even as part of a band, he can show up at an event alone and perform to hundreds of attendees as though he’s just walked into his living room speaks volumes. Clearly at ease with himself, his musical talent and using his voice to its full effect, the Captain is a gem himself. Hidden Gems can take you on a roller coaster of emotions from the lazy Happy in Bed, the melancholy of This is a Song, to the uplifting anthem of Mr Many Men that seemingly closes the album. That is until you discover the literally hidden gems ten minutes later.
Anyone who has seen the Captain perform will be fully aware of his talent. It has been passed onto the album perfectly. They’ll also be aware of his tendency to stop singing mid song, branch off like a Ronnie Corbett story and start having a chat with the audience. This usually extends a 5min 30sec song to around the eight or nine minute mark. Every track is faultless with lyrics that are twisted up in metaphor to a degree I’ve not seen since the early Stereophonics days. I can’t help but feel that there’s something bigger brewing.
Given the way the Captain conducts himself – the mythology of the character being some kind of godlike time traveller who passes on his stories of the world in song – I think there’s a lot more to him and this album that we’ve been let in on. Certainly at this moment anyway. I think the second album will give us more clues to a riddle we don’t yet fully understand. And hopefully some answers we don’t yet know the questions to.
I’m certainly looking forward to what the Captain has to offer over the coming years. In the meantime, this is a stellar album.
You can find out about the Captain of the Lost Waves via his Facebook page.
You can learn more about the album, tours, buy the album and other cool merchandise at the main website: Captain of the Lost Waves website