The Blackheart Orchestra, Rick Pilkington and Chrissy Mostyn have a valid claim to be the world’s smallest orchestra, and between them, both being extremely multi-talented, multi-instrumentalists, they play thirteen different instruments, including electric and acoustic guitars, bass and keyboards, plus Chrissy’s Omnichord. As well as this they’re also two very talented songwriters, largely writing and performing their own music and, for only two musicians, there’s rarely been any diminution in quality across all the albums they’ve released.
On this album, however, they’ve surpassed themselves both in terms of quality and the range and scope of their level of musicianship. Their music is difficult to categorise, being a synthesis of prog, ambient, pop, folk, etc, but it’s crammed full of the same beautiful singing and musicianship which is a feature of all their albums. In fact, Hotel Utopia could well be the best album in their roster thus far.
However, the said Hotel isn’t anything as trite and commercial as the Hotel California… thankfully. The Hotel Utopia, says Chrissy Mostyn, is our mind. “The Hotel Utopia is the human condition and we’re its guests.” If you’ve not already picked up on it, there’s a central theme running through Hotel Utopia .. this is a concept album, with the theme being human existence and the emotions we experience while we’re here, plus what happens afterwards. This is music as philosophy!
Each one of the thirteen songs on Hotel Utopia looks at a particular aspect of our daily existence, our hopes and fears and the many other things which are a part of life, such as love, loss, suffering, grief, etc, as well as considering where do we go when our mortal coil is shuffled off? It’d be fair to say this is an album which won’t be filed under easy listening. But if you’re prepared to think about what you hear, there’s much to enjoy on Hotel Utopia, not least the hauntingly gorgeous voice of Chrissy Mostyn.
The tone is set in album opener ‘The Tide’, a song written in the aftermath of Chrissy Mostyn losing her mother. It’s a story of how watching the sea enabled her to come to terms with her feelings of grief. ‘Under The Headlights‘ tells us we’re all part of something bigger than ourselves. The video for this track was filmed at Birling Gap, a popular place for taking your own life, and this was the inspiration for ‘Alive‘, which considers what happens when someone takes the leap into darkness.
There’s a song about reincarnation (‘Atlantic’) and one about who spins the wheel to determine where we go in the afterlife (‘Castings Spells’). Rick Pilkington sings lead on ‘Dust’, a song about grief and they even rock out on ‘Astronaut’, which tells us not to lose sight of our dreams. The album concludes with ‘The Flood’, about surrendering to an inevitable power, with its lengthy Floyd-like guitar conclusion and the birds who ‘announce our arrival and rebirth at Hotel Utopia.
The songs on this album are beautifully written and performed well, with Chrissy’s vocals a delight to the ear and Rick’s ability to create lush melodic backings still evident. They may be a little too “out there” for some, but it’d be cool to see them get wider recognition for their music, rather than remaining a hidden delight.