These days it seems like everyone has taken us to space.
David Bowie may have done it first, releasing “Space Oddity” in 1969 and morphing into Ziggy Stardust in the ’70s to release songs like “Moonage Daydream” and “Starman.”
Elton John came through a few years later, dropping his ’72 hit, “Rocket Man,” cementing himself in the legacy of spacefaring musicians. More recently, and less famously, Shinyribs’ Kevin Russell wrote “Who Built the Moon,” which he performed at JacksonHoleLive this summer, telling the story of a wayward space pilgrim.
Sure, none of those musicians have actually been to space. But the idea of space and its empty expansiveness remains an enduring metaphor for musicians like Paul Janeway, the effervescent frontman of St. Paul and the Broken Bones, which will play an 8 p.m. Tuesday show at the Center for the Arts.
“It’s an easy way to identify with loneliness or feeling insignificant, you know, removed and distant — isolation,” said Jesse Phillips, St. Paul and the Broken Bones’ bassist.
All of those emotions are on display on the band’s latest album, “Young Sick Camellia,” where they mix in with Janeway’s examination of his identity — the Camellia is Alabama’s state flower and Janeway has described himself as a “blue dot in a very red part of the world,” making the album’s title all the more revealing — and, of course, the loneliness and isolation of outer space.
Like Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” St. Paul and the Broken Bones’ song “Apollo” tells the story of an astronaut lost in space. Bowie’s Major Tom asks ground control to “tell my wife I love her very much,” though he seems content to disappear into the heavens.
Janeway’s astronaut isn’t. He’s torn up about being “stuck in moon dust” and starts “tellin’ all the stars” his lover’s name, amid a dancey disco-inspired arrangement that makes it hard not to think of the astronaut imagining spinning his lover around the living room — or the dance floor.
“Paul obviously writes from the heart and on a very personal level,” Phillips said.
Beyond space, the album is interspersed with Janeway’s musings about the complexity of the relationships among men in his family and sprinkled with recordings of Janeway’s late grandfather talking.
“Young Sick Camellia” is a deeply personal album. With its dynamic instrumentation — hip-hop, disco and, in some cases, electronic influences can all be heard — it’s a record that easily pushes St. Paul and the Broken Bones from an exceptional soul band into a more modern, dynamic eight-part roots outfit.
And, as he was on 2014’s “Half the City” and 2016’s “Sea of Noise,” Janeway is in the lead. Clearly. But that doesn’t mean he’s always buttoned up. Far from it.
“He can be a little bit of a loose cannon in the moment,” Phillips said, describing Janeway’s tendency to allow himself — and his voice — to run away on stage.
That sort of dynamic energy has landed St. Paul and the Broken Bones an opening slot with the Rolling Stones, a number of appearances on shows like “Austin City Limits” and “The Late Show with David Letterman” and the band’s upcoming gig at the Center.
And while Janeway’s voice and lyrics anchor the band, Phillips and musicians like drummer Andrew Lee provide him with much needed structure, which Phillips described as “signposts.” They provide the framework during live shows. Janeway fills in the rest.
“This is kind of nerdy, but you know how the smaller transformers would come together to form the big, powerful transformer when they had to fight really scary enemies? I think we sort of feel a little bit like that,” Phillips said.
“These small components come together with unity for a common cause and are a much more powerful force because of it.” ￼