Legit question: how long do you think Francis Farewell Starlite has been waiting to use the phrase ‘Farewell, Starlite!‘? Thankfully, nothing in his career as Francis and the Lights has ever been that obvious, and this proper full-length album certainly follows suit. Released without pomp and fanfare on a weekend, it does serve to reason that the Kanye and Bon Iver fave doesn’t give a single fuck about acclaim, commercialism, or indeed criticism.
But hey, Francis isn’t exactly Beyonce or Frank Ocean in terms of a surprise album having an impact, though there’s absolutely no questioning that this electronic sound is going to filter into the mainstream soon enough. In fact, it’s already quite a feature in the work of his collaborators, yet in the hands of Francis it sounds terribly natural and an integral part of the texture of his work. That’s also lot to do with his raspy vocal, giving a blues-tinge to songs like Comeback, threading the space in his production with a volume of heart.
“Whole damn world is a cage,” he sings on the first track See Her Out (That’s Just Life), which almost celebrates the resignation of its title with punchy spikes of synth – if anything, it’s a bold opening statement to break out of that prison with his electronics spreading confident and concertina-like for the finale. And where vocal modulation feels endlessly jarring on most records, Francis manipulates it to his favour, almost creating two personae on Can’t Stay Party which – ironically enough – descends into a full-blown flashlight dance party of its own.
That there’s no real adhesion to genre helps round the record as an three-dimensional illustration of Francis’s personality. If we’ve covered dance and folk already, I Want You To Shake feels like the leftfield pop we deserve in 2016, while the balladry of May I Have This Dance is (in the nicest way possible) a worthy baton-carrier for contemporary Phil Collins. And yet there’s never a loss of intimacy in all these songs – there’s the sense of solitude through Francis’s sound and words but it feels like a choice, the lights of his stage name really just a single spotlight in a small room for him to share words like It’s Alright To Cry (“I always wanna leave/ but I never wanna say goodbye”).
It’s a rare admission on our part, but it is hard to find a weak link in Farewell, Starlite! – even the star-studded centrepiece Friends feels like the perfect crowd-pleasing climax to a cinematic self-portrait. Which is kind of what this album comes down to really, and the reason it feels like such an essential success: here’s someone who’s not only taking his brushstrokes outside the lines, but doing so in a way that creates a unique yet sympathetic character study. In a world of musical monochrome, this parade of flashing Lights can only ever be a blessing.