TREMBLING BLUE STARS Her Handwriting (Elefant)

Trembling Blue Stars are the third band in succession formed with the purpose of providing an outlet for Bob Wratten’s songs of doomed relationships and lost love. He used to be in the Field Mice, the archetypal fey jangly 80s indie band who defined the Sarah Records sound (and vice versa) and used to have t-shirts emblazoned with the credo "Chocolate, Love, Sex". They were forever slightly famous for having their "Kiss And Make Up" covered by Saint Etienne, which in the indie ghetto was the equivalent of a jackpot lottery win. After they broke up, he formed Northern Picture Library, who made just one album of lush Etienne-esque melancholy, the gorgeous "Alaska". Now comes Trembling Blue Stars, and the belated release of their debut album on vinyl through an obscure Spanish label many months after its appearance on CD through an obscure British label (Shinkansen).

Unsurprisingly, Wratten’s concerns have changed very little. He still sings deeply personal tales of doomed love affairs over a backdrop of 80s synth noises. The difference is that the music of Trembling Blue Stars has the claustrophobic air of a man working alone; I wouldn’t go so far as calling it self-indulgent, but you get the recurring feeling throughout the album’s four sides that he’s playing to a very specific audience of one, not unlike listening to all those songs for/about PJ Harvey on the last Nick Cave album.

When it works it generates music of almost unbelievable loveliness, for example the single "Abba On The Jukebox", which consists of a list of places he’s been with an unidentified companion. It begins with the line "Lands End at dusk" and wanders through talk of haircuts and ferries, before ending with a guitar line ripped off Stereolab’s "Ronco Symphony". It’s the ultimate antidote for those who’d argue that Britpop-era Blur were too parochial, ‘cos it makes "Parklife" sound like "Born In The USA"! When it doesn’t work you get glacially slow-moving acoustic guitar and synth wimpouts, to the point where "The Far Too Simple Beauty" and "Saffron, Beautiful And Brown-Eyed" are very, very bad rewrites of The Stranglers’ "La Folie" and The Blue Nile’s "Over The Hillside" respectively.

Personally, I’m of the opinion that Bob Wratten is an unrecognised genius who takes the true art of the songwriter, that of using your own experiences as the basis of your work, to almost painfully voyeuristic extremes, and would point to anything by The Field Mice, Northern Picture Library or Trembling Blue Stars to back up this wildly unfashionable opinion. But equally, I’d understand if you couldn’t be bothered.

TREMBLING BLUE STARS Lips That Taste Of Tears (Shinkansen)

Bob Wratten’s second album of confessional, heart-on-sleeve songwriting differs little from last year’s middling "Her Handwriting". His songs are still open letters to unidentified ex-girlfriends, given disingenuously frank titles like "You’ve Done Nothing Wrong Really", "Never Loved You More" and "Made For Each Other", all set to wispy ‘n’ wimpy electronica that suggests Saint Etienne after ingesting enough Barbara Cartland novels to stun a herd of rampaging wildebeest. As is becoming traditional with Trembling Blue Stars albums, "Lips That Taste Of Tears" contains one moment of unbridled almost-genius, in the shape of the singe "The Rainbow". Sung not by Wratten but by long-time collaborator Annemari, for six minutes the album soars above the mopey miserableisms that keep it so naggingly earthbound throughout the other thirteen tracks. It sounds like some kind of dream sequence, and it’s the one occasion "Lips That Taste Of Tears" escapes reality; for the rest of the time it just wallows in it.

That Bob Wratten is a minor-league indie pop legend is not in doubt; his work with seminal Sarah Records band The Field Mice, and later with Northern Picture Library, is evidence enough. But the further he travels from the ‘proper band’ concept (Trembling Blue Stars being essentially a solo project) the more tiring his outpourings become.