YOU are the INTREPID EXPLORER! (Their caps, not mine)
Morningbell – Through the Belly of the Sea – A Choose Your Own Adventure Album
I know, I know, that title’s enough to scare the pants off you isn’t it. Especially if you remember bands like Savatage. You can settle down a bit though because we’re not in some nasty 80’s metal hell here. No, this is US Geek Indie territory, so if you’ve developed your personal appearance on the principle that you want to look like Ben Folds, Stephen Malkmus or Ani Di Franco, then you should hang around to learn a bit more about the music. Alternatively, if you’re one of those IT people that hang around shops like Games Workshop and spend hours of your time working out battle strategies for your little hand painted Orc armies, then you may want to pay more attention to the sleeve notes because, trust me, this is right up your alley.
You see, Morningbell have a thing for Ian Livingstone books. I did too, at one point. Choose Your Own Adventure Books were more of a game than a story. At the end of each chapter you were given a multiple choice question. Your answer led you to the next point in the story and usually ended up with you walking into the Forest of Death and Blood because it sounded cool, running into some god forsaken monster who, thanks to the rub of the dice, killed you. So then you started again, this time avoiding the Forest of Death and Blood, and heading for the City of Gar-Um-Thum-Kahn instead, where you met a Dark Knight who took an instant dislike to you and forced you to roll the dice. At which point you rolled a one and he lanced you through with his sword. So you started all over again – or put the book on a shelf and let it gather dust if you were as impatient as I was as a teenager.
Now, thanks to Morningbell, "YOU are the INTREPID EXPLORER!" (Their caps, not mine) and your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to follow the story in the little booklet and, instead of rolling the dice, you simply skip back and forth through the songs as you set off in search of "the Deep Sea Submersible Observatorium". Here’s how it works out.
Chapter one. You step into the Sea Capsule and take off.
Chapter seven. Journey to The Bottom (interlude). La de daa de daa, this is nice. Oh look, there’s a jelly fish. It’s huge, but wait, that’s nothing compared to the SEA MONSTER with 40,000 EYES! Of course, I decide to fight.
Chapter Four. "Faster than Eagles, Stronger than lions" – Ha ha, come on ya big bugger! Is that the best you can do?
Chapter 5. Bugger. I’m dead.
If this album isn’t careful, it’ll be collecting dust before I get through to Chapter 12. Still, I persist, in the tradition of all good music reporters and RPG geeks everywhere. Having said that, if you’re still reading this, I’m impressed. I’d have walked away at the mention of Savatage. Let me be plain about this. Through the Belly of the Sea is a concept album. The Choose Your Own Adventure thing is a gimmick. It’s about a daft adventure under the sea, filled with monsters and Submersible Observatoriums, but here’s the thing. It’s actually VERY VERY APPEALING to listen to. (I think this weird caps thing is getting to me!)
If you have stuck with this review this far, then I suggest you go and check this out because if you can get past the gimmick, you’ll find something rather delicate and lovely hidden underneath. Hey, it even contains some intonated wineglasses. It’s a lovely album, buried under a shell of Ian Livingstone like nonsense. It’s all very watery, as you might expect, with some floaty vocals too. Ok, I’m sorry, I can’t do this any longer. Just check it out, it’s a damn sight more interesting than it has any right to be and if you like your Flaming Lips, your Ben Folds and your early Beth Orton albums – you’ll like what’s here too.