Rating:

* * * *

Don McGlashan's 2006 debut solo album

Warm Hand

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2006 was full of stories. There were character-driven narratives aplenty and much geography.

This new one doesn't follow that pattern - for stories and scenery,

Marvellous Year

substitutes poetry and astronomy. And jointly credited to his live backers the Seven Sisters, it's also having quite a lot of noisy fun around the edges. In its latter stages, it sounds less like McGlashan the solo teller-of-tales than the guy who once fronted the Muttonbirds.

That's especially so of the spirited guitar-fired

C2006P1

. It's a Bowiesque-glam ode to the heavenly body otherwise known as Comet McNaught which streaked across our skies a few years back. Funnily, the gentler jangling, accordion-adorned title track is a lyrical variation on the same idea, complete with a whimsical take on mankind's earthly achievements ("the petrol engine, the old-age pension, the fires of Hades, the Briscoe's lady ...") against the timeless cosmos. And rather lovely it is too.

Less so is

Radio Programmer

, another McGlashan song about a functionary grappling with the ethics of his job ("take for instance this one, by the Seven Sisters, it's gonna be tough call, but there might be a way") but certainly not the best of them - though it surely deserves classic rock high rotation for its crash-bang opening with a certain famous Steppenwolf guitar riff.

That's down near the end of an album which doesn't finish as well as it starts - the last two tracks are McGlashan's own take on his

Bathe in the River

(still running nicely after high mileage from one lady owner) and the instrumental,

Theme from The Colossus of Roadies

.

The gems on this are frontloaded - like the spartan and sweetly melancholy opener

The Switch

, seemingly addressed to a son growing up too fast. There's more perfectly pitched contemplation of things domestic in

Everything's Broken

;

Life's So Sweet

, its hypnotic looping guitar reminding of McGlashan's earlier

Envy of Angels

.

Likewise, though the songs here are light on the character studies of his past work, the story and sound of

Bad Blood

suggests it's set in the same neighbourhood to

Dominion Road

.

And

Not Ready

with its fierce bassline and swirling strings delivers the sort of spooky pop psychedelia the Muttonbirds were so deft at while

You're the Song

is an on-the-road ballad with echoes of his Front Lawn days.

They lead nicely to the album's hulking and quietly thrilling centrepiece

18th Day

which comes on like McGlashan's - possibly South Pacific - answer to Neil Young's

Cortez the Killer

.

So all told, not the same old Don. And as an album, it's having too much fun - or spending too much time peering through telescopes - to be regarded as McGlashan's finest hour.

But there's still plenty of new evidence of his particular songwriting genius throughout.

Russell Baillie