-Thanks to Paul and his team for sending me a free copy (and all the lyrics)-
Runtime: 1hr 7mins
Cast: Paul Shapera, Lauren Osborn, Candice Price, Kerttu Aarnipuu, Hayley Warner, Marjolein Nijsten
Having tackled every punk suffix from steam- to cyber- to atom- to fairy-, and written everything from transgender cyborgs to time travelling AI and posthuman narratives, where do you go next? Well, if you’re Paul Shapera, the answer is obviously dieselpunk lesbian jazz. Because why not?
Katy Shaw and the Search for the Stolen Secret takes us back to the glory days of New Albion, a time around that of The New Albion Radio Hour album. A time of oppressive governments, junkies in the streets, jazz clubs and robberies. The actual punk element is somewhat reduced this time around, with the focus on the seedier side of life in the titular city. All those seeds sown in the long-ago Radio Hour ‘New Albion’ tracks have their payoff here. The sketchy clubs, the daring thieves, the addictive drugs. It all comes together nicely. And then, because this is a Shaperaverse album, time travel gets thrown into the mix too.
As a narrative – itself a concept the album plays with – this is undoubtedly one of Shapera’s strongest works to date. The plot, in spite of all its twists and turns, is fairly easy to make sense of. The alternating song/dialogue structure works well, with Michael being a handy posthuman guide to the story of Katy Shaw. Fair warning though, Katy’s story is bleak. Really, really bleak. Shapera has always been a fan of heartbreak, and that is on full display here. If you’re the emotional sort, best have some tissues ready.
While there are some familair voices, with Kerrtu Aarnipuu (the Meme) and Lauren Osborn (pretty much everyone) making a return, the latter as Constance O’Brien herself and the former in a new role, the star is of course the vocal talent behind Katy Shaw, Candice Price. Swinging easily from heartbroken despair to vitriolic fury, with just a sprinkling of sweetness in between, hers is a voice I would love to hear more of. And if the open ending of the album is anything to go by, there’s at least another album to enjoy in that regard.
Usually, not just with Shapera but with any artist, an album has a few songs that I’ll take and listen to on a loop. Whether it’s the Blood Red Dogs or ‘Put on a Show,’ Shapera has always had a knack for standout pieces. But that is not the case here. Katy Shaw and the Search for the Stolen Secret is, as well as being a bit of a mouthful, an album best listened to in its uninterrupted entirety. Only then can you fully appreciate the strength of the narrative, the long instrumentals and punchy spoken word intervals. The anger of the finale is lessened in isolation, and the rambling hilarity of ‘Mark’ makes little enough sense in context. ‘Christmas in the City’ and ‘The Heist’ are both brilliant in their own very different ways, but better listened to in their right place. Varied as it is, this is an album that walks in tight balance between the absurd and the sublime.
This is perhaps not the best place to start your Shaperaverse journey, but’s an excellent story with catchy tunes and heartbreak aplenty. What more could you ask for?