“Music is the moonlight in the gloomy night of life.” – Jean Paul Friedrich Richter
Music heals you, music lifts you, music gives you solace, music is one of the only things that gives you succour when you are both happy and sad and music has made my life a better place to be.
Music can also tell a story and when it is in the hands of a talented musician like Robin Armstrong, that tale can be absorbing and captivating.
‘Heroic Materials’ is the ninth album from Robin’s musical project Cosmograf and tells the story of William ‘Billy’ May, a heroic Spitfire pilot, who looks back on his life at the age of 99 and realises the world has completely changed since he was a young man put into an impossible scenario, defending his country from the air. He no longer recognises much of the modern world but understands that the human race must live in a different way in the future.
The album sees the character wrestling with his memories of the war, and harbouring nostalgia for a past era but he realises that change is essential if we are to avoid climate catastrophe.
“Well goodbye to the age of steam, I felt you
Goodbye to the age of cars, I loved you…”
‘Heroic Materials’ represents Robin’s most complete release yet and is the pinnacle of his musical career so far, the opening spoken word intro of I Recall draws you into the sepia tinged world of nostalgia and Robin’s plaintive vocal takes up the refrain and the feeling of loss of a past that will sadly be missed. As we segue into the next track with the unmistakeable sound of a Rolls Royce Merlin engine, the hairs begin to stand up on the nape of your neck…
Behold a new design is born. A battle in the sky,
Requires the best design to fly…”
The three-part title track Heroic Materials opens with a delightful piano refrain from former Big Big Train member Danny Manners and turns into a majestic, slow burning classic with evocative lyrics that see you almost losing yourself in the story of this fighter pilot and his fateful life in the sky. Robin’s guitar playing, always stellar, reaches incredible new heights on this utterly compelling and emotive tale. Both stirring and touching at the same time, the way the narrative ebbs and flows with the music shows there’s genius at work here.
“Close the Door,
It’s not this era anymore… A story told,
I know it never will grow old…”
Industry is a voice over telling us about how the E-Type Jaguar evolved from the D-Type racer…
“Designer, fold the light, Great art, make it right…”
Lead single from the album, the dynamic and powerful British Made stands tall as a statement of what we have lost as a manufacturing nation and is a nostalgic throwback to a golden era of motoring and you can feel the pride in Robin’s vocals, a feel of the calm before the storm that is the fervent energy in the ardent guitar playing. It is music as a statement and you can feel the yearning for times gone by and the remorse at the loss of what was once a fine and well respected industry in this country.
“There’s never a moment to talk or reflect Mary, there’s never a chance, to speak to you…”
Our hero Billy met Mary in 1941, she was in the Air Transport Auxiliary and lived her life like the Spitfires she flew, at high speed. Mary is a beautiful tribute to the woman that he loved and lost as she ran out of fuel on a routine run and crashed. A melancholy but bewitching piece of music that hits me on an emotional level, perfectly crafted and performed.
“Is this a long goodbye to everything that’s real?”
Blinkers is a wonderful, if brief, diatribe of finding the courage to change that which we have become accustomed to and its mournful vocals and delicate piano give it a truly wistful, rueful feel.
“To live beyond the dirty war,
To live beyond the worst disease, To help my loving family,
To love a life where I am free…”
Robin is truly one of the best songwriters out there when it comes to progressive rock and on If Things Don’t Change he is at his illuminating best. A modern balladeer and troubadour, the way he crafts his stories is inspirational. Talking about how climate change will destroy the earth and how change is difficult but we must try to make a difference. The empathy in the vocal and the thought provoking, electrifying music is just outstanding, just check out the heartrending guitar solo and tell me you are not touched deeply by it.
“But if this world returns to dirt,
Erased by fire and greed,
There will clearly be no need, to start another one…”
The Same Stupid Mistake fires a warning shot, if we don’t change, we will destroy the earth and there’s no need to start again. A slow, meandering rhythm has a serious and thoughtful atmosphere and the words slowly work their way into your brain, hopefully to make you sit up and listen.
“I wish I’d made the most of what I had
The chances lost just make me sad…”
Robin’s soulful guitar leads into the contemplative thoughts of Regretful Refrain, a persuasive reflection on a past unfulfilled. As we come to the end of our time on this planet we wonder if we could have done things differently and made a difference, left a legacy and this rueful track captures that feeling perfectly. The dynamic vocals and sorrowful, potent guitar yearn for a perception of better times.
“This is what is left,
It’s down to you.
The world you left is dead, What shall we do?”
The musical refrain from the opening track returns on final song A Better World, a sumptuous and charismatic track and a promise to the world that we can, and will, do better, it’s a fine way to bring things to a close as Robin intones, “I wish you were here too, We’ll make it new.”
The sumptuous, questioning ‘Heroic Materials’ is undeniably brilliant. Robin has laid his heart and soul, his whole being in fact, down as music. Emotive, melancholy at times, this record is a story and history at the same time. A plea for the future of the planet it may be but, above all, it is an immersive artistic triumph and one of the best releases of recent years.
Released 9th September, 2022.
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