[sic] Magazine

Stephen Hero – 57 Stars Of The Air Almanac

I’ve always been a little wary when a main component of one of my favourite bands goes solo. Some misplaced sense of loyalty takes over for me to buy their album and then I feel disappointed with the results when they inevitably fail to match the efforts of his former band. In fairness, the first three Stephen Hero albums (two of them were mini albums) were pretty decent even if they felt like polite retreads of past triumphs. I wasn’t aware of Patrick Fitzgerald’s most recent release until I did some research in preparation for the interview for [SIC] Magazine. True to form, I dutifully ordered ‘57 Stars Of The Air Almanac’ straight away; hanging on to the belief that the man would deliver a career revival in his middle ages. Amazingly, he has.

Fitzgerald has certainly changed his approach from earlier solo albums. There are some throwbacks to the glory days of Kitchens Of Distinction (and ex-bandmate Julian Swales is keen to prove he still knows his way round an FX pedal for ‘Early Astronomy’) but piano is the dominant instrument this time around and Fitzgerald plays everything else bar the drums. ‘Open Blue Skies’ is as head-spinning as anything he’s ever written from its urgent piano riff to its euphoric chorus. Given that this new album is largely reliant on piano, this brings forth new comparisons and I can certainly hear a resemblance to another underrated hero John Howard for the stark ‘A Death In June’ and a comforting finale called ‘The Polar Bear’s’.

Fitzgerald’s vocals are in their finest form. No longer needing to shout to be heard above a mass of swirling noise, we can now appreciate what a powerful, emotive reach he has. ‘Oh, Frank’ is epic but refined and ‘Back To Bed’ is a warmly melodic ballad. Only on the optimistic sounding ‘Welcome Home!’ do his words threaten to get drowned beneath the percussion.

More than a dignified return, Fitzgerald has not only changed his style but also produced his best album since those heady days of the early 1990’s. In its own way, this is as romantic, beautiful and powerful as those classic early releases from the Kitchens Of Distinction back catalogue.

Read our Interview with Patrick Fitzgerald



For more from Jon, please read his ‘zine Leonards Lair