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The Black Heart Procession Amore del Tropico

My obsession with the Black Heart Procession started in 1999 when I bought their second album, 2, based only on a favourable review in the EG section of The Age. While its music reviews are somewhat more reliable than its movie ones (largely since Jim Schembri has yet to write any), it was still the sort of gamble which often results in a wasted $25. However, of the many words to describe this CD, ‘wasted’ was not one which jumped to mind. This was some of the most beautiful, sparse, bleak, melancholy music I had ever heard. With a name like the Black Heart Procession, it was clear that ‘uplifting’ was another word that would rarely be associated with them but their particular brand of lost love and broken hearts was told with such perfection that it was never depressing and often inspiring.

The "crime of passion" is only ever hinted at and it is left to the listener to connect the very few dots…

Thus my obsession with BHP began. After much effort I managed to buy their first album, 1, online. It was equally enthralling, albeit presenting the band at a more embryonic stage. I eagerly awaited their next album, Three, but would eventually be somewhat disappointed by its arrival. For while all the features I had loved so much in 1 and 2 were still present, there was nothing much new. In fact when looking for any development in the band since 2, the only obvious advancement was the switch from album titles written numerically to having the word spelt out. It seemed BHP might have been a one trick pony which would now slowly fade away.

How wrong I was. With ‘Amore del Tropico’, the band’s creativity goes beyond the radically different album title. The band have discovered a whole new kind of love-gone-wrong. They have become proactive in their brokenheartedness. Bleak lost love has been replaced by murderous lost love.

It is clear from the start that things are not going to work out well with the first 10 second track called ‘The End of Love’ followed by ‘Tropics of Love’ with the lyric “was it here where we left our hearts, in the tropics of love” and most ominously on ‘Broken World’,

I know that you are through with me,
I know you want to get rid of me,
I know that you have a plan for me,
I know that you want to torture me,
Now we’ll never meet again,
Not in this broken world.

This change is paralleled in the music. While the first three albums were slow, spacious and at times despondent often recalling a sea shanty, ‘Amore del Tropico’ has a fuller sound and stronger driving beat with occasional Mexican influenced sounds. Several of the songs are in 3/4 and 6/8 time, urging you to get up and waltz along even as they sing

Love is a poison ring,
And love has poured you drinks,
Now love waits for you to sleep,
Don’t lend it to a friend,
Cause you may never see that friend again

The band’s leading duo, Tobias Nathaniel and Pall Jenkins, still play a wide variety of instruments, including the haunting musical saw but are now joined by other instrumentalists on cello and violin.

The ‘crime of passion’ which is the subject of the CD is only ever hinted at and it is left to the listener to connect the very few dots we are given. Our clearest sign of what has happened is on the penultimate track ‘Fingerprints’ when the culprit is presumably found out. It is the final track however which is perhaps the most intriguing. Having kept up their new livelier sound for the entire album, this last track returns to the slower bleak sounds of 2:

I know I’m the one who has disappeared
When I write my name no words appear
And in your heart I will appear
And when it’s my turn I turn away.

It seems as though after taking the gamble of being more proactive in their search for love, and having failed again, the band have reverted to their former ways. The basic message of BHP remains the same. Your love life won’t work out. But at least now you can dance along to their music while you wait for the inevitable.

(The band plan to shortly release a silent movie, with the album as soundtrack, telling the story of the songs. We will see then if I managed to join the dots in the right order.)

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