Tuesday, 30 November 2010

JENNY AND JOHNNY - I'm Having Fun Now

jenny

I first became aware of Jenny Lewis in 2005 when her band Rilo Kiley’s second album ‘More Adventurous’ gained a cult following. As good as parts of that album were, it was only with the release of the following year’s ‘Rabbit Fur Coat’ – an album recorded by Lewis with The Watson Twins - I became truly convinced of Ms Lewis’s brilliance. That album’s lush songs, full of three-part harmonies steeped in old country and gospel traditions, captured her voice beautifully.

The third Rilo Kiley disc, 2007’s ‘Under The Blacklight’ was also loaded with great songs and it seemed like Jenny Lewis was on a roll. In 2008, Lewis’s first proper solo album ‘Acid Tongue’ had a similar rootsy feel to her previous outing with The Watson Twins, but stripped of the three part harmonies, the songs felt a little starker in places. Also, Lewis’s repetitive choruses meant the album wasn’t quite the masterpiece it could have been, although a suitably over the top performance from Elvis Costello comes recommended.

I always figured that Jenny would next be seen fronting Rilo Kiley once again, who by 2010 were certainly due a new release. It wasn’t to be. Instead, she teamed up with singer/songwriter Johnathan Rice, who’d previously produced her ‘Acid Tongue’ album. I’d hoped Jenny and Johnny’s song writing style would be of a similar retro, heart-tugging style to that of M Ward and Zooey Deschanel – the kind featured on their She & Him albums – but instead, Jenny and Johnny offer a bunch of mostly sprightly rock-pop numbers, befitting of the album’s title, ‘I’m Having Fun Now’. Although this album has a slightly disposable nature, it’s great to hear Lewis tackling material that’s upbeat and not quite so self aware – a polar opposite to her mature side previously showcased with The Watson Twins.

‘Scissor Runner’ opens with Johnathan Rice taking lead vocal over jangly indie pop verses, which musically aren’t far removed from ‘Lovey’ era Lemonheads. This works well enough, but naturally, once Jenny Lewis adds her counter vocal and chorus harmonies, it becomes rather more special – even though the arrangement is fairly basic, with no real climax. It’s this style of 90s indie pop which Jenny and Johnny have made their forte for a good proportion of the songs featured. ‘My Pet Snakes’ has an old rock ‘n’ roll twang in places – albeit delivered in a late 90s style. While it’s music may not be as instantly enjoyable as the opening number, vocally it’s a winner. Jenny takes lead on the verse, stepping aside for Johnny for the chorus. Due to a few rather over the top ‘oohs’ placed in the backing vocal this sounds a little hit and miss, but Jenny delivers a great lead.

One of the stand out numbers ‘Big Wave’ features an upfront vocal from Lewis (with a brief harmony from Rice at the end of the chorus). With rhythm guitars crashing against a great bass line, this sounds a bit like a Rilo Kiley leftover, but more than that, it’s hard not to find more than slight influence from Juliana Hatfield and John Strohm’s work with Boston legends Blake Babies. Taking things at a slower pace, the acoustic based ‘Switchblade’ features some top harmonies. In terms of arrangement it’s very strong, with each element given more than enough space in the mix. Sounding great together, Jenny’s breathy vocals harmonize with Johnny’s plain yet enjoyable delivery.

Against a gentle, echoing guitar, ‘While Men Are Dreaming’ offers the album it’s only number which could be compared to the aforementioned She & Him. Jenny’s multi-tracked vocal lends itself well to the song’s naivety, while Johnny’s voice has been used to create a strong counter-vocal which features obvious a cappella stylings. It definitely would have worked as a true a cappella number, but the guitar adds some great textures. ‘While Men Are Dreaming’ is at odds with the rest of Jenny and Johnny’s material, but due to Jenny’s charm, it works well and lends the album a little variety.

‘Just Like Zeus’ is a sixties-inspired number where Jenny and Johnny’s harmonies are at their best. In fact, the whole band are tight – the simple drum part working particularly well – creating a number which would suit the twin harmonies of Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs. It’d be great to hear them sing it, but it’s extremely unlikely we ever will. Speaking of Matthew Sweet, an influence from his ‘In Reverse’ era work can be heard throughout ‘Animal’ and ‘New Yorker Cartoon’. Maybe it’s the chiming, sixties influenced guitars; maybe it’s Johnny’s vocal style; it could even be both – there’s a confident air and a greater depth during these Sweet influenced numbers than the album’s first few tracks would ever suggest. Whatever, it’s on these numbers where Johnny really comes into his own and proves himself a more than worthy companion to Jenny’s shining vocals.

At this point, things tail off... ‘Straight Edge of the Blade’ returns things to the jangly defaults of the album’s opening numbers, albeit with weaker results. There’s nothing wrong with Jenny’s vocals here, but there’s a sense you’ve already heard this done in a superior way. The country twang of the guitars in the left speaker add a nice flourish, but on the whole, it’s little more than an okay number. With a greater focus on keyboards to flesh out the sound and an over-reliance on handclaps, ‘Slavedriver’ is upbeat enough to hold its own, but the song writing isn’t too remarkable, and also a greater focus on keyboards plus an over reliance on handclaps means the song doesn’t quite work. The closing guitar driven number, ‘Committed’, is almost as throwaway. The tune itself sounds oddly familiar and certainly provides an upbeat end to the album (with both Jenny and Johnny sounding like they had a great time), but there’s a feeling that, once again, you’ll have heard better numbers on ‘I’m Having Fun Now’.

You won’t find much originality in Jenny and Johnny’s sound; but you’ll find plenty of enjoyment if you’re a Jenny Lewis fan. The end results are often solid, and the album’s relative brevity at under 40 minutes ensures a breezy, good time affair. It’s likely the presence of Jenny Lewis that’s attracted you to this album in the first place, and as such, if you’re a Jenny Lewis devotee, you’ll certainly want to have ‘I’m Having Fun Now’ in your collection.


November 2010

Monday, 29 November 2010

THE SILVER SEAS - Château Revenge!

silver seas

In 1996, Daniel Tashian (son of country-folk duo Barry and Holly Tashian) recorded a country rock influenced album named ‘Sweetie’ with legendary producer T-Bone Burnett. Despite being created with Burnett and featuring a cast of top notch session musicians (including Larry Knetchtel, Jay Joyce and the legendary Booker T Jones), the album was not a commercial success.

In 1999, following a change of musical direction, Tashian teamed up with producer Jason Lehning to form the core of The Bees, a band with a retro pop fixation. Their debut release, 2004’s ‘Starry Gazey Pie’ features some good, hooky songs and a few wandering ones. Their sophomore album ‘High Society’ has a bigger focus on 60s and 70s style hooks and is instantly enjoyable. ‘High Society’ secured The Bees a record deal with Cheap Lullaby Records who reissued the album the following year. The reissue of ‘High Society’ was credited to The Silver Seas, a moniker chosen after a British band named The Bees had gained popularity and held the rights to that name. [‘Starry Gazey Pie’ was reissued as a Silver Seas album too, though only in MP3 format].

With some of the more lightweight sixties influences taking a back seat and even more seventies power pop and pomp influences coming to the fore, this third Silver Seas release ‘Château Revenge!’ takes those influences and bends them into something near retro pop perfection.

‘Another Bad Night’s Sleep’ is an incredibly busy number driven by wall of ringing guitars. Daniel Tashian’s vocal is confident and sounds superb against the many guitar parts and tight rhythm section. It’s a strong opener and one which captures many of the best aspects of The Silver Seas’ sound. ’Jane’ is slightly simpler, very much in a jangle pop vein. With more space for the song to breathe, against a gentle backbeat, there are great fills on the electric piano. Once again, it’s Tashian’s vocal backed by crystal clear guitar work which is most likely to pull in the listener. When that voice meets well arranged harmony vocals, it’s really hard not to be captivated by The Silver Seas’ brand of power pop. During ’The Best Things In Life’, Daniel Gherke (drums) and Lex Price (bass) prove themselves as a rhythm section, with a punchy approach which barely lets up throughout the song. Again, a full band sound is padded out with string sounds. Here, there are 10cc influences bought to the table and a slightly funky vibe.

Featuring a gentle vocal delivery, solid bass and multi layered sound, ‘What’s The Drawback?’ uncover an absolute love of Jeff Lynne. While they’ve not stooped to the squishy drum sound and vocals that sound like Sparky’s Magic Piano, there are definite influences from ‘Evil Woman’, ‘Sweet Talking Woman’ and other 70s classics. Bringing the point home with a nod and a wink, ELO even earn a namecheck in the song before a quick burst of strings recalls an old ELO tune. A beautifully played guitar solo shows a great amount of restraint and sounds like a cross between ‘That Lady’ by The Isley Brothers and classic Steely Dan, all in all making this one of the best songs on the album. Equally fantastic, ‘Somebody Said Your Name’, offers plenty of similarly busy 70s pop, as a slightly distorted bass and electric piano lead a confident feel-good number. Tashian is in great vocal form here, but it’s the music which makes it so captivating. There’s a musical tightness and perfection here worthy of Todd Rundgren’s 1973 masterpiece ‘Something/Anything’.

‘Home & Dry’ changes the mood, bringing things down from a level of 70s brilliance to more sedate singer-songwriter territory. At first Tashians voice and acoustic guitar dominate the arrangement. As the track progresses there’s backing from mandolin (obviously an influence from Tashian’s parents), and then with the band joins – the fuzz bass and drums adding a punch, string sounds adding colour. Also more subtle, ‘From My Windowsill’ provides the album’s melancholy AM radio moment, strings, organs, a twangy guitar solo and soft harmony vocals are all delivered with The Silver Seas’ magnificence – creating something big, but without bombast.

‘Candy’ is full of Todd Rundgren-esque grandiosity. The musical arrangement has everything thrown at it – including the ubiquitous strings and huge backing vocals, hovering somewhere between The Beach Boys and ELO. Buried within the kitchen sink approach, there are the sounds of sparingly used glockenspiels. Granted, it doesn’t feature the retro-pop sleigh bells which have a habit of creeping in with things like this, but frankly, there just isn’t room! ‘What If It Isn’t Out There’ showcases soul influences in its vocal stylings. While the huge harmony vocals provide a big hook, it’s Lex Price’s unshakable bass playing which grabs the attention. By turns both solid and warm, the bass sound here is fantastic. The slightly fuzzy, noisy guitar solo feels a little out of character for The Silver Seas, but this has been balanced out by the addition of string backing and the fact it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

‘Help Is On The Way’ makes decent use of a twangy guitar, an uneasy string break and a busy keyaboard loop. While parts of the arrangement are great (some nice backing vocals), this is one of the weaker numbers, due to the band not really cashing in on a potential hook. It’s weaker than most of the album for sure, but measured against most band’s standards it’s still better than filler material.
‘Those Streets’ has moments where the ringing guitars and electric pianos from other Silver Seas numbers are present, but its punchiness is more in keeping with 90s style indie-rock than 70s pop/rock. Daniel Gherke’s drumming takes the reigns for an upbeat number with a decent chorus. Tashian adopts his preferred ringing guitar tone again, and throughout this number it becomes rather insistent - almost relentless – despite only being present on the right channel, in an old fashioned stereo display. [In fact, this album would have sounded superb presented in a 5.1 mix, since it’s as multi-layered as any of the better known Flaming Lips recordings which were issued in that format].

The album closes on a rather more subtle note with ‘Kid’, an optimistic ballad, with Tashian leading things with his acoustic guitar. By the songs end, it’s transformed into a piece of sweeping beauty, with lavish strings. In a slightly tongue in cheek moment at the albums close, Tashian introduces the band members like a Vegas showman. As the album ends, as a listener, it feels like the end of a great journey into a world of cool retro pop.

It may sound like a big claim, but ‘Château Revenge!’ is one of the finest power pop albums ever. Each of its twelve songs offers the listener something great - and it really sounds like an album in the old-fashioned sense, as opposed to a collection of songs. Since the Jellyfish albums became the yardstick by which all power pop releases were measured in the 1990s and forever beyond, in a perfect world, ‘Château Revenge!’ would be the album to which all others aspire to in the 21st Century. An indispensible disc.


November 2010

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

ISSA - Sign Of Angels

issa

‘Sign of Angels’ is the debut release by Norwegian born singer Issabell Oversveen, otherwise known as Issa (not to be confused with Jane Siberry’s alter-ego of the same name). It would be more than fair to say Issa’s voice is strong, but it isn’t remarkable by any means - you'll certainly have encountered better female rock vocalists in the past... Combine that with the choice of album artwork and the fact that the record company press release talks about how “beautiful and sexy” Issa is before it attempts to state how talented she may be, it would suggest Frontiers Records may have been swayed somewhat by the Scandinavian blonde’s looks. Let’s hear it for equality in the 21st Century. That aside, with input from a team of song writers (including members of Hammerfall and Candlemass), the album itself delivers some great moments, which should be enough to please long-time fans of melodic rock, even when the end results are often workmanlike workwomanlike and a little predictable.

Combining staccato guitar work against slightly pompy keyboards, the verses of ‘I’m Alive’ present the song with a strong base, but it’s the huge chorus which makes it a winner. Simple, predictable, but suitably feel-good, it lifts the track considerably. Multi-tracked vocals lend a classic sound for a number which would have suited many of the melodic rock greats had it been written a decade earlier. The chorus of ‘Give Me a Sign’ offers a sweeping majesty and the rest of the number offers decent performances from all concerned, though it’s odd that Peter Huss wouldn’t take the opportunity for a guitar solo – especially given that there’s an almost perfect opportunity for one at the 2:20 mark.

The big power ballad, ‘Unbelievable’, sounds like a soft-metal version of Amanda Marshall. Here, Issa utilises the softer side of her vocal style during the verses, which makes for good contrast against all of the Euro-rock power-fisting elsewhere. Not that this track lacks an element of that, of course; in fact, its chorus is the very epitome of the great fist-clenched 80s style power ballads. Adding a choir of backing vocals takes things up a notch, but not in a way which upstages the lead – and that lead is one of Issa’s finest. ‘What Can I Do’ takes one of the album’s heaviest riffs and does very little with it. Despite best intentions, the plodding nature - complete with stabbing keys representing the sound of strings – provides a textbook example of Euro-metal. With a better chorus, there’s no reason it couldn’t have worked, but as it stands, it’s rather leaden. Similarly, ‘How Will I Know’ tries its hardest to be a decent rocker, but Tim Larsson’s keyboard work approaches similar sting-influenced territory. Here it’s much worse – interfering with what could have been a relatively good hard rock number. Featuring a very strong pre-chorus, this track promised so much, only to be let down by a slightly clumsy arrangement.

There seems little point in going into any greater detail regarding the rest of the songs, since there’s not a great amount of variety within the album’s twelve numbers. Depending on your personal viewpoint, that’ll either be the album’s greatest strength or eventually work to its detriment. On the whole, though, what you’ll get here are a bunch of (largely) unobjectionable songs with a few really great choruses on hand to give things a boost. For the diehard melodic rock fans, this’ll find a deserved place as collection filler. For the rest of you: if you’re starting to look beyond Journey, Survivor and Foreigner for similar undemanding rock thrills, there are a whole world of second division artists who deserve your attention before you even consider Issa as a contender, no matter how good parts of her debut may be.


November 2010

Thursday, 18 November 2010

GRINSPOON - Guide To Better Living

grinspoon

In Europe and the US, Grinspoon have never achieved any more than cult status, and yet, in their native Australia, they’ve been hugely successful. Although Grinspoon’s debut full-length release was released in Australia in 1998, I first heard it when it received an international release the following year. I was instantly taken with their brand of post-hardcore music, especially the album’s opening number ‘Post Enebriated Anxiety’ [sic]. Although Grinspoon had enough talent of their own, I heard more than a trace of other great post-hardcore bands like Quicksand and Helmet within their music, even though the music press at that time had been quick to label them an Australian grunge band.

‘Post Enebriated Anxiety’, in many ways, is the track which best captures the early Grinspoon sound. The band throws down a pounding rhythm and angry riff, which could have easily been a Helmet number – and anyone who wants to be influenced by Page Hamilton should be given the thumbs up. If you’re looking for similar post-hardcore material, ‘Repeat’ offers plenty of slow grinding, but retains enough quirk to never sink into unnecessary sludge and ‘Sickfest’ works well coupling a simple punchy verse with a quirky riff during its intro, while it’s chorus stands out with its use of tuneful harmony vocals backing a shouty lead. It also features a guitar solo, which is almost entirely out of character, as ‘Better Guide...’ isn’t big on that kind of old-style musical showing off. ‘DCX3’ shows a slightly more fun side of the band. First off, its main riff resembles White Zombie’s ‘Super-Charger Heaven’, though I’m sure any resemblance is purely coincidental and lyrically it concerns a dead cat. It features another metal-style lead guitar solo, but it’s nowhere near as accomplished as the one featured in ‘Sickfest’. ‘Black Friday’ utilises Joe Hansen’s Helmet-influenced bass style and is another of the better examples of Grinspoon’s take on the post-hardcore movement. ‘Pressure Tested 1984’ is noticeably weaker than most of the album’s material; here, the sharp edges are a little too sharp and Phil Jamieson’s vocals wander into slightly uncomfortable territory. The second half of the song moves towards a more pleasing slow and heavy approach, but Jamieson’s vocals remain at their most extreme.

‘Bad Funk Stripe’ features the band in an uncharacteristically mellow mood, as the track winds things down to a lazy jangle, suitable for those summer days. It also features another lead guitar break, which also manages to be restrained, reaching no more than a bluesy noodle. ‘Champion’ pushes the band’s post-hardcore qualities into almost rap-metal territory without ever quite getting there, but even so, it’s a standout. ‘NBT’ and ‘More Than You Are’ have a sharpness which both bring more of a pogo element to the band’s sound, without resorting to being straight-up punk numbers and ‘Pedestrian’ also features the band at their spikiest, matching a riff-based verse with a sharp and angry chorus. The simple repetition during the chorus helps make it easily memorable, but it’s the return of the Helmet style bass work which is the track’s real draw.

It wasn’t until I’d had my international version of ‘Guide To Better Living’ for about a year, I discovered the original Aussie release not only presented the tracks in a different order, but also featured a few different songs. ‘Black Friday’ and ‘More Than You Are’ are not included on the (proper) domestic version, as they’d already been released in Australia as part of the ‘Grinspoon’ and ‘Pushing Buttons’ EPs respectively (both of which feature other non-album cuts, so they’re worth seeking out). In their place, the album features ‘Just Ace’, ‘Balding Matters’ and ‘Don’t Go Away’. Neither ‘Don’t Go Away’ or ‘Balding Matters’ are especially distinctive, but ‘Just Ace’ stands out as it doesn’t sound as mature as most of the other songs. It focuses largely on a lead bass part, joined occasionally by a fun sounding lead guitar part which instantly recalls a lot of mid-90s pop-punk stuff.

The only real downside with the Aussie version of the album is that ‘Pressure Tested 1984’ is the opening track! After being used to the international version of the album, ‘Post Enibriated Anxiety’ always felt like the perfect opening statement... For those unfamiliar with Grinspoon, ‘Pressure Tested 1984’ could be more than a little off-putting as an opening number.

If you’re thinking about buying ‘Guide to Better Living’, it’s likely the version you’ll find is the international release as (unless you’re native to Aus) it’s the most common pressing of the album. If you hear that and like it, then it’s worth looking for the original version to hear the album the way it was originally intended.


March 2010

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

“They say it’s your birthday...”

Well folks... Doesn't time fly? It's REAL GONE's first anniversary this week (yesterday, in fact).

Over the past year, it's been great bringing you all a mix of reviews, from new releases to cult classics; I'd like to think that REAL GONE has highlighted a few neglected gems out there. C'mon, you know you all want to hear the Jepp album!

Interest has slowly built up over the year and REAL GONE has had stuff published at M is For Music, a much bigger music site. Hopefully the next year will bring more visitors and even greater attention.

For those of you who visit regularly, thank you. I know there are a few of you out there who've followed from the very beginning.

There are still new reviews being written every week. In addition to those, there are already a truckload of reviews already written and waiting to go online over the next few months. Eventually, you'll get to read them all. Watch this space... Hopefully, you'll find lots more stuff to enjoy.

Until then, here are a few birthday related clips:

Watch Paul McCartney - Birthday (live at Knebworth 1990) here.
Watch The Birthday Party - Release The Bats (Live at The Hacienda) here.
Watch The Young Ones - Cricket/neil's birthday cake/Elephant Head here.

Monday, 15 November 2010

SLEEPER - Smart

sleeper

Although the exact date has been forgotten, I first heard Sleeper on a John Peel radio show on a Saturday night sometime in early 1994. On that same evening, he also played tracks by other relatively unknown bands Ash and Hopper. I knew that night that at least one of those bands would become fairly big. I was right on two counts. It never really happened for French band Hopper in the UK; their first album, ‘A Tea With D’ can be found occasionally in bargain bins, but frankly, they never sounded anywhere near as appealing as they had when Peely played them on his radio show. Ash, of course, became big starts with their pop-punk influenced brand of indie rock, while Sleeper became one of the most popular bands associated with the Britpop scene.

Sleeper’s debut album ‘Smart’ appeared in early 1995, following on the coat-tails of three earlier singles (‘Alice EP’, ‘Swallow’ and ‘Delicious’). A great combination of indie rock jangle, attitude and a curious sexiness – courtesy of Louise Wener’s breathy vocals – made it one of the must-have albums of the era. Granted, it’s unlikely to be remembered as fondly as Blur’s ‘Parklife’ (a strong contender for being the Britpop generation’s ‘Sergeant Pepper’) or those early Oasis discs, but with its relative simplicity, ‘Smart’ hits the listener square on from the start.

The opening track – and breakthrough single, peaking at number 16 on the UK chart – ‘Inbetweener’ combines Sleeper’s two guitar sound (Wener on jangly rhythms, Jon Stewart on lead) with enough bounce to get things moving. Stewart’s discordant lead guitar parts linking the verses provide the ideal contrast to the pop sheen lurking throughout the song. Lyrically, the song regards a boyfriend who’ll clearly “do for now”, laying the foundations for the themes of relationships and sexual undercurrent found within a number of the album’s songs. A video featuring Dale Winton (then the host of a crappy morning quiz, ‘Supermarket Sweep’, popular with skiving students) helped the song get extra exposure. That sexual undercurrent becomes more of a raging torrent of grubby feelings during ‘Swallow’ – a tale of conscience, adult relationships and ex-boyfriends, to which Wener’s vocal style adds weight to its seediness. The rest of the band (faceless to most of the world) settles into a jangly groove, which on the surface sounds like the standard indie-rock of the times. If you listen more closely, the guitars are severely multi-tracked: behind the main slightly heavy-handed jangle, there’s a counter-melody with sharp edges. By the song’s end, it’s like a mini wall of sound.

‘Delicious’ – the album’s edgiest number (previously issued as a single, though only just breaking the chart with a peak position of #75) – offers enough sexuality and sneering to grab the attention. Musically, its lead guitar riff is one of the album’s sunniest, and instantly perks up something which could have easily been quite ordinary. A closing section changes pace entirely to a slow stomp, which allows Wener to stretch her vocal just that little further. By the end of the three minutes, the band sounds like they’re fit to burst.

‘Poor Flying Man’ focuses on the nineties phenomenon of the LOUDquietLOUD technique of song construction, used to great effect throughout work by Pixies at the beginning of the decade. The verses feature a good use of Diid Osman’s quietly rumbling bass, overlaid by Wener’s hushed tones. The chorus is a crashing contrast, and while Stewart’s guitars add volume, the end result is somewhat predictable; unsurprisingly, this is one of the album’s more overlooked numbers.
‘Alice In Vain’ doesn’t veer too far from this tried-and-tested formula, but has greater strength due to a more impassioned vocal, slightly edgy solo and muted guitar strings on the verses. Looking at it in terms of a single release, it may not have quite the commercial edge over ‘Inbetweener’ or ‘Delicious’, but there’s enough enthusiasm on board to carry it off. Like ‘Poor Flying Man’, the LOUDquietLOUD approach drives the lyrically oddball ‘Hunch’. A story of a man who “looks like a frog” and “has six arms” and a hunched old woman “the size of a child”, there’s a feeling of guide vocal lyrics, as none of it really hangs together. The crunch on the chorus is enough to lend it charm, but it’s certainly ‘Smart’s most skippable track.

With its lighter quality on the verses and greater use of harmony vocals on the chorus, ‘Vegas’ looks ahead to the slightly modified sound Sleeper would employ on their follow-up album. While lacking the punch of ‘Smart’s best moments, it’s slightly refined tone allows the pop nature of much of Sleeper’s songcraft to shine. A re-recording of ‘Vegas’, featuring a fuller arrangement and Blur’s Graham Coxon guesting on sax (though credited under a pseudonym) was released as the album’s final single, eventually only reaching #33.

A sly humour runs through ‘Lady Love Your Countryside’ – its title making fun of a Germaine Greer essay - with tongue firmly in cheek. This story some teens’ day in the country (spent drinking, smoking and spray-painting paradise) provides little variety on the album’s other material. The more demanding listeners among you are bound to note that for all of their brilliance, Sleeper were nothing if not formulaic, although Andy Maclusky approaches his drum kit in a more interesting and rhythmic fashion than usual. The rocky ‘Pyrotechnician’ ensures the album closes with an energetic, positive number. Wener’s vocals have a sense of urgency as they compete against a wall of guitars, topped with Maclusky’s cymbals. While ‘Imbetweener’ is the pinnacle of Sleeper’s ability to write commercial, slightly alternative pop (at least on this debut release), ‘Pyrotechnician’ ranks alongside ‘Delicious’ as one of the greatest examples of Sleeper at their most vibrant.

‘Smart’ climbed to #5 on the UK album chart. It’s success led to Sleeper gaining a great deal of television exposure over the following year and - despite those eyebrows - Louse Wener became the closest the Britpop scene had to a pin-up girl (though, I suspect, after various appearances sporting a school uniform, fans of Echobelly’s Sonya Aurore Madan would like to argue). With nearly all the press attention focus on Louise Wener, the three men in the band became faceless (a fate that had also been the cause of much of Blondie’s internal turmoil a decade and a half earlier). NME, in particular were a little harsh, coining the briefly popular term “Sleeperbloke”, used to describe any men who happened to be in a band where the front-person garnered all the attention.

Sleeper’s second album, ‘The It Girl’ (a title presumably chosen as a tongue-in-cheek response to Wener’s poster-girl status) enjoyed similar success and displayed a slightly more polished sound. By the release of Sleeper’s third album, the largely forgettable ‘Pleased To Meet You’, the fire had all but gone. ‘Smart’, meanwhile, sounds as good as it ever did; an album loaded with great songs and, for people of a certain age, memories of an important musical movement. No collection should be without one.

[A 2CD reissue of ‘Smart’ adds all of the non-album cuts, bar the single version of ‘Vegas’. A 2CD deluxe reissue of ‘The It Girl’ was also released].

Watch the video for ‘Inbetweener’ here.
Watch the video for ‘Delicious’ here.
Watch the video for ‘Vegas’ here.
Watch a live performance of ‘Delicious’ from MTV here.


August 2010/October 2010

Friday, 12 November 2010

DOM DE LUCA - A Bell I Gotta Ring

domdeluca

Every band or artist has an influence. Sometimes that influence manifests itself as a plagiaristic sledgehammer: for great examples, check out melodic rock bands BB Steal and Tower City for homages to Def Leppard, or better still, check out Hockey Night for an almost note-for-note recreation of Pavement. When there are so many bands whom could be accused of imitation (whether intentional or not), it’s always good to find an artist who doesn’t just flatly imitate their idols.

Toronto based musician Dom De Luca cites both Steve Earle and Townes Van Zant as his biggest influences, yet his sophomore album, ‘A Bell I Gotta Ring’ doesn’t sound hugely like either artist. They may have influenced him, but he’s been smart enough to take that influence and twist it into something of his own.

‘Be Back Soon’ presents De Luca at his best. The acoustic shuffle, backed by brushed drums and twangy acoustic lead moments is extremely inviting. Like many singer-songwriters, De Luca’s vocal style takes a little time to tune into, but the end result is decent. Similarly, ‘So Caught Up In You’ delivers something equally uncomplicated, capturing De Luca and Phil Brown in an acoustic duet. During this number, De Luca’s distinctive warble works well in harmony with Brown’s rather more ordinary vocal style. The solo acoustic number ‘Love, I Feel It Spreading In Me’ features the welcome sound of a mandolin and pleasing guitar picking among it’s sparseness, while the ache in De Luca’s vocal style could be compared to John Ondrasik of Five For Fighting. De Luca is so keen here to capture the feeling in his performance that no effort seems to have been made to fix any off-key moments (of which this album has more than a few), but the song doesn’t suffer for that.

Those looking for upbeat acoustic-based pop may find enjoyment from ‘Brother, Brother’ and ‘Chin Up, Babe’. ‘Brother, Brother’ features De Luca accompanied in a full band arrangement; the drum style is unobtrusive and De Luca sounds at his most confident in this setting. ‘Chin Up, Babe’ has a sunny vibe, with Dom’s acoustic work combined with a simple piano riff. The drums are replaced with congas, and despite an uncomplicated arrangement, the end result seems to work well – it’s not a great leap of the imagination to picture a re-worked version of this on the soundtrack of a family movie. ‘Lovin’ You So’ presents the album with a curve-ball. De Luca steps aside from acoustic folk-pop and delivers a track that has a strong reggae bias. While the end result is summery, De Luca’s delivery combined with the pop-reggae reminds me a little too much of Paulo Nutini – and that’s not so good.

‘I Heard You Were Lonely’ steps things up a little, delivering a number in the rock pop field. There are moments within this song where De Luca’s band really pulls together – drummer Walter Maclean turns in some great fills and seemingly relishes the rare opportunity to cut loose. Over De Luca’s jangle-pop guitar lines, Phil Brown offers spacious electric lead, leading to something which wouldn’t have sounded out of place in Ron Sexsmith’s back catalogue. It’s here that De Luca’s heavily affected lead vocal resembles Sexsmith the most too – wandering drastically off-key at various points toward the song’s end.

‘A Bell I Gotta Ring’ is an album with a heartfelt approach. While there are times where his vocal delivery can be very hard to listen to, the album features a couple of clear stand out tracks. It’s possible the rest of his material sounds better in an intimate live setting.

Visit Dom at his MySpace page here.

November 2010

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

THE RUSSIANS - Crashing The Party

russians

The name Janovitz is almost synonymous with the Boston music scene. Paul Janovitz achieved cult success in the 1990s with his college rock band Cold Water Flat, while his older brother Bill became rather more famous as frontman and chief song writer for alternative rock heroes Buffalo Tom. Their brother Scott has been in various bands too – most notably Dragstrip Courage – in addition to producing records for other bands and being a sideman to Graham Parker.

Scott Janovitz also has a power pop collective, The Russians, which features a revolving cast of collaborators. After a couple of well-received EPs, in 2010’s full-length ‘Crashing The Party’, The Russians deliver a subtle disc that’s full of retro pop/rock melodies, though not always in the usual feel-good power pop mould.

The album opens with a slow number with Janovitz proudly stating ‘The Record’s Over’, where accompanying the downhearted vocal, there are great moments of electric piano, swirling organ and fuzzy guitars. This track name-checks the Beach Boys and references their song ‘Do It Again’, but despite this, is certainly not full of the usual attention grabbing jollity which would often open an album full of 70s pop influences, but the swirling, almost psychedelic vibe could still pull you in. There’s also mention of ‘student demonstration time’, though I’m not sure it’s in reference to the much maligned Beach Boys number of the same name... ‘Not So Loud’ has a bigger hook, though it’s still a world apart from the instant gratification provided by bands like Jellyfish or Farrah, since here, The Russians trade in the usual power pop obsessions with Wings and 10cc, favouring bouncy electronica influences instead. Imagine Brendan Benson meeting with The Cars and then performed by Tubeway Army with a mid-70s glam stomp and you’re about halfway there.

Featuring harmony vocals and chiming guitars reminiscent of Big Star, ‘You Know’ provides one of the stand-out numbers. While those harmony vocals are rather understated, the guitars lend a timeless quality. Granted, the hook may not be as instant as those delivered by The Russians’ most obvious contemporaries, but the approach here is typical of the album’s best moments. It’s a slow-burner of a track which requires multiple listens before the magic becomes obvious. With another stomping approach, heavily treated vocals and a nod to T Rex, ‘Make It Easy’ offers an uptempo rocker. Beneath the slight distortion there are layers of keyboards, a big ‘woo-hoo’ styled vocal, rock ‘n’ roll piano fills and a shameless guitar solo. The distorted elements make the vocal rather hard to decipher, but even so, this track breaks up the more reflective moments of the album rather well, even though it’s one of the more disposable numbers. With a strong focus on acoustic guitars played in 90s alt-rock style, ‘Measure Out Our Space’ shows a more organic side to The Russians. The harmonies used so well on ‘You Know’ make their return – and in doing so, they help this number remain fairly buoyant.

‘Talking To Yourself’ features a bassline which is high in the mix during the verses, but it’s the chorus and instrumental parts which grab the attention, having a very Posies-esque vibe. Since it’s such a great sound, it’s a pity the hook wasn’t a bigger one. The title track has similarly understated moments, as a warm bass line weaves its way through a very 60s arrangement. The laid back vocals here are perfectly suited to the equally laid back groove. The ubiquitous power pop sleigh bells put in an appearance here, but not in a quirky fashion. This is melancholy power pop at its finest – a perfect companion to Oranjuly’s ‘The Coldest Summer’ or Chris Bell’s ‘I Am The Cosmos’.

‘Crashing The Party’ may not be as instant as some power pop releases since, in places, it has a tendency to be downbeat. If you’re into the more thoughtful and melancholic approach to power pop though, this album can represent a very rewarding listening experience.


November 2010

Monday, 8 November 2010

RAY DAVIES - See My Friends

ray davies

Ray Davies is a man who needs no introduction. A national treasure, Ray will always be best known for his 60s work with The Kinks. It’s likely you stopped listening to The Kinks after the release of their ‘Percy’ album in 1971, only to reconnect with them in 1983 when ‘Come Dancing’ became an unexpected UK top 5 hit. Unless you’re a die-hard fan, it’s unlikely you’ve heard any of the albums The Kinks released from 1971 onward, even though they tirelessly plugged on, releasing an album a year for the remainder of the decade. From that point, they sporadically released albums up until as late as 1992.

Outside of The Kinks, Davies has released a handful of solo albums which have earned a cult following (the first of which, ‘Return To Waterloo’ released in 1985 during a break in The Kinks’ schedule). As with those less famous Kinks albums, each of Ray’s solo works have moments of greatness - 2007’s ‘Working Man’s Cafe’, in particular, is a gem.

Ray Davies’s 2010 album ‘See My Friends’ is a celebration of his Kinks work, allowing many people who’ve been influenced by him a chance to put their stamp on his songs. In duet with Davies himself, the album features contributions from some musical heavyweights, alongside some potentially more interesting cult performers. While the inclusion of Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi and Metallica are guaranteed to help the album shift a few units (or more likely a few iTunes downloads of those individual tracks), kudos must be given to Davies for choosing to work with some less obvious collaborators: it was a surprise to see Pixies man Black Francis and New York indie heroes Spoon on his roll-call of friends.

Naturally, most of the guest performers have played it safely by choosing classic Kinks tunes from the 60s, but there are a couple of exceptions. The first of these opens the album, as Ray Davies teams up with the legendary Bruce Springsteen for a fairly workmanlike run-through of ‘Better Things’ (a track from the 1981 Kinks album ‘Give The People What They Want’). The original version is superb, being an optimistic song driven by a particularly loud drum kit and featuring a brilliant stabbing piano intro. This re-recording is well suited to Springsteen with its slightly bombastic approach. Springsteen’s voice sounds fine on the chorus, but on the verses – where he trades lines with Davies – it sounds huskier than ever and clearly sounds like he’s struggling. Davies’s vocal, on the other hand, features as much wistful charm as ever. Overall, the end result is okay, despite Springsteen not being in the best of voices. [For a superb cover of this number, check out the version recorded by Dar Williams for her 1997 album ‘End of the Summer’.]

The Kinks’ original version of ‘Celluloid Heroes’ is a gorgeous, slightly melancholy affair featuring lavish harmony vocals against a piano-rock base. The recording included here features none of the originals piano greatness, but surprisingly doesn’t suffer for that. Jon Bon Jovi and his right hand man Richie Sambora make this their own; Jon’s voice has real presence and Richie offers some classic sounding, soaring guitar lines. Ray Davies’s harmony vocals round out the sound to make this one of the album’s greatest moments. I have very mixed feels about the version of ‘You Really Got Me’ featured here. I have a great amount of respect for Metallica – and naturally, the original Kinks riff was one they could easily beef up. However, I’m not entirely sure that making it ten times heavier is an improvement. James Hetfield’s distinctive growl feels a little heavy handed too. On the plus side, with the slightly quicker pace the track has been given here, Davies sounds really energized when it’s his turn at the microphone.

After an intro featuring a few bars from ‘Days’, Mumford and Sons lend their folk-rock chops to ‘This Time Tomorrow’, a track originally featured on the ‘Lola vs Powerman’ LP. The original Kinks version is delivered with a stomp and with a heavily accented twang, so it’s a natural choice for Mumford. Davies takes more of a back seat for this number, but Mumford and Sons fans should find plenty of entertainment as Marcus Mumford and Ben Lovett’s raggedy vocals tear through a rather spirited performance of this lesser-known Davies composition. For ‘Lola’, Davies chooses to share vocals with Paloma Faith, who’s old-styled, slightly wobbly voice sounds superb here. The band in turn gives this famous Kinks’ number a rather forthright arrangement, with rumbling bass and a (most welcome) heavy leaning toward the piano. Kinks enthusiasts may be interested to know that Faith chooses the cherry cola line in her vocal, as per the Kinks’ single release, as opposed to the “proper” coca cola line from the original album recording. [It’s still amusing that in 1970 the BBC were more concerned about the song advertising a product than they were about it featuring a man falling in love with a transvestite].

‘Waterloo Sunset’ is one of those Kinks songs you’ve heard so often that it’s become part of our British musical heritage. While The Kinks’ 1967 original will always be the absolutely definitive version, the duet here with Jackson Browne is just superb. Featuring Davies, Browne and two acoustic guitars, the intimate nature of this recording captures both musicians in great form. With absolute professionalism, hearing Davies in close harmony with Browne just highlights what a beautifully written and arranged number ‘Waterloo Sunset’ is. While ‘Long Way From Home’ was never really one of my favourites, Ray’s duet with alt-country performer Lucinda Williams is somewhat dreary. I must confess, I’m not a fan of Williams’s heavily affected, drawling voice and the pace of this track just makes it worse. Her voice is really high in the mix too, almost drowning Davies out in the process.

Power pop legends Big Star recorded a storming version of ‘Till The End of the Day’ in the early 1970s as part of the sessions for their ‘Third/Sister Lovers’ album. Here, Chilton has been given the opportunity to perform that classic Kinks number alongside Davies. Naturally, Chilton’s delivery sounds supremely confident. The band are suitably punchy too: the drums loud and energetic, the organ work (although low in the mix) comes in heavy swirls. In addition, an angular guitar solo and a couple of complex bass runs help recreate the energy of the early Kinks sound. If you’re a Chilton enthusiast and like the Big Star rendition of ‘Till The End of the Day’ from ‘Third/Sister Lovers’, you won’t be disappointed. As a rather sad footnote, Chilton passed away a few months before the release of this album. While his death was far too premature, I’m sure he would have been delighted at being one of this album’s featured guests.

A take on ‘Dead End Street’ with Amy MacDonald is best described as ordinary. While the bar-room piano is quite fun, generally, little has been done here to add anything to the original performance. The warmth of the recording just doesn’t have the same vibe as the Kinks’ trebly 1966 recording and a spoken exchange between Davies and MacDonald at the close of the song is guaranteed to grate after a few listens. I can’t help but think this could have worked out better with KT Tunstall instead...

Since The Kinks’ 1965 single ‘See My Friends’ has a droning, psychedelic vibe (often credited as being one of the first releases to incorporate Indian raga sounds), it’s a perfect vehicle for the alternative rock band Spoon, whose own work features a strong basis of jangly vibes and lo-fi quirks. With lots of reverb, Britt Daniels’s vocal meshes with Davies’s against a wall of ringing guitars. The musicians involved choose (rather wisely) to play things as faithfully to the original as possible. Nothing here sticks out as being exceptional, but if you’re a fan of Spoon, you’ll probably want to check out this collaboration. During ‘This Is Where I Belong’, the guitars chime and the drum provides a solid backbeat. Black Francis’s very distinctive vocal is the main feature here, but he’s offered suitable backing harmonies from Davies. Factor in the slabs of organ work and this is very well suited to Black Francis, the sound here very much in keeping with the more rootsy styles he experimented with in the mid-’00s.

Ray Davies’s voice is the only real saving grace with regard to a re-working of ‘David Watts’, featuring Californian indie-rock band The 88. While the great piano part from the original is given plenty of volume in the overall mix, when combined with staccato guitar work and the general oomph The 88 insist on playing with, it’s really tiring. [For the definitive cover version of this, look no further than The Jam’s respectful version from 1978]. Following The 88, ‘Tired of Waiting’ sounds incredibly...tired. Snow Patrol’s frontman Gary Lightbody joins Davies here and while the track is tackled at a similar pace to the Kinks original, it just seems to sag under the weight of Gary Lightbody’s uninspired vocal.

While ‘All Day and All of The Night’ is a Kinks number familiar to all, it’s 1981 semi-reworking ‘Destroyer’ will possibly not mean a lot to many of you. In an attempt to be edgy in a post-punk way, Davies reworked ‘All Day...’s influential riff into a song which features a partly spoken word delivery. The level of anger on that original recording of ‘Destroyer’ may have sounded a little unnatural in the hands of The Kinks, but reproduced here as a duet between Davies and Smashing Pumpkins mainman Billy Corgan, it sounds great. Corgan’s guitar work concentrates on the simple chord pattern and his loud, nasal vocal style is an effective contrast to Davies. Davies, in turn, when delivering the spoken word parts, sounds better here than he had back in ’81. Corgan replaces the original pre-chorus from ‘Destroyer’ with the famous lyrics from ‘All Day and All of the Night’ to create a very effective medley, ending the disc on a high note.

As you may expect given the selection of featured performers, ‘See My Friends’ is a mixed bag. In some places, it sounds more like an album of people covering songs by The Kinks as opposed to an album of Ray Davies performing duets. In that respect, it’s almost certainly been geared to entertain fans of the guest performers rather than fans of Davies himself. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. If those listeners enjoy this album, that’s great. If it means they get exposed to Davies’s songs and then choose to explore The Kinks’ back catalogue...even better.

See the official EPK for the album here.
See Ray with Mumford & Sons on ‘Later...With Jools Holland’ here.
See Ray interviewed by Jools Holland here.
See Ray talking about the album on BBC News 24 here.


November 2010







Friday, 5 November 2010

THIN LIZZY - Thin Lizzy

thin lizzy

Thin Lizzy’s debut LP is a curious affair. The original group, comprised of Phil Lynott (vocals/bass), Eric Bell (guitar) and Brian Downey (drums) were supposedly conceived as a power trio – a hard rock format which had gained popularity in the late 60s with the likes of Cream - yet very little from their 1971 self-titled offering reflects that. It’s not weak, by any means, but overall it’s more ‘trio’ than ‘power’ and musically, much of it bears little resemblance to the band Lizzy would later become.

Despite most of the material not sounding much like classic Lizzy, it’s clear, even here, that Lynott is a charismatic frontman, an emotive vocalist and superb bassist. All of which are qualities which have a strong presence during ‘Honesty Is No Excuse’, a mid paced, soulful number. Lynott’s vocal delivery sounds like a man making an honest plea, with his voice almost cracking on the longer notes. While his bass work on this track is never flash, it’s got warmth, pinning the song down but never becoming intrusive. ‘Eire’ and ‘The Continuing Saga of The Aging Orphan’ are very fragile: ‘Eire’ features some simple bass playing from Lynott, while colourful guitar flourishes from Bell push what would’ve been a simple folk tale into folk-rock territory. During ‘Aging Orphan’, Bell and Downey are reduced to little more than backing for Lynott’s vocal, which is full of sadness.

‘Ray-Gun’ and ‘Look What The Wind Blew In’ are outright rockers, which are surprisingly enjoyable. ‘Ray-Gun’ showcases bluesy electric work from Eric Bell. The main groove is provided by his wah-wah riff, over which Lynott plays an incredibly funky bass. It’s one of the only moments where the three guys get close to the typical power trio style. ‘Look What The Wind Blew In’ feels simpler; it has a looser groove which ends up feeling a little messy, especially on the chorus, where Lynott chooses a smooth vocal style which doesn’t suit the tune...and then uses that to sing something which doesn’t really scan properly. ‘Return of the Farmer’s Son’ also demonstrates the band’s rock side. Brian Downey’s drum fills are excellent; Phil’s bass and vocals are aggressive and Eric’s blues-rock soloing gives the piece a decent edge. If Lizzy had looked towards this blues-rock style more instead of concentrating on a non-specific blend of psych, folk and blues, this would have been a very different record indeed. (Although, it clearly didn’t always work: ‘Remembering Part 1’ attempts to get tough, but ends up rather muddled).

‘Diddy Levine’ is a track that showcases the range of styles played by the original three-piece line-up in just over seven minutes. The verses are wordy and wistful, there are acoustic folk stylings, but as the song progresses, a hard rock riff develops. While there’s nothing wrong here, its folk elements aren’t as good as some of the album’s other gentler moments and any attempt to rock out doesn’t match the excitement generated by ‘Return of the Farmer’s Son’.

Thin Lizzy followed their debut with ‘Shades of a Blue Orphanage’, an album which showcased Lizzy’s growing confidence. That confidence manifested itself in a set of songs which showcase a slightly broader set of influences. As a result, the album feels rather unfocused. This second album also sold poorly. However, by the beginning of 1973, with two non-charting albums to their name, Thin Lizzy’s fortunes were about to change.

[A remastered version of ‘Thin Lizzy’ features bonus tracks culled from the Irish ‘New Day’ EP and another non-album single, ‘The Farmer’. Also included are overdubbed and remixed versions of four of the debuts songs - all of which were previously available on the 1979 Decca compilation ‘The Continuing Saga of the Ageing Orphans’.]


January 2010

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

HOCKEY NIGHT - Keep Guessin'

hockey night

Listening to this second album by Hockey Night, it seems almost inconceivable it was released on Lookout! Records, a label best associated with punk bands. The slack-vocalled indie rock cool found within these album’s grooves is far more in keeping with Matador Records - and in particular the latter-day works of Pavement. The influences here are really strong, not just musically; Paul Sprangers’s vocal is a dead ringer for Stephen Malkmus.

I’d like to spend more time than I have time choosing musical moments which stand out, but the truth is, these guys have no originality in their sound; there’s nothing here you’ll ever listen to and say ‘oh yeah, that’s the Hockey Night sound’, as everything sounds so much like ‘Brighten The Corners’/’Terror Twilight’ era Pavement. The comparisons are unavoidable, so much so, I have moments listening to this album where I forget it isn’t them.
If you can get past that, surprisingly, ‘Keep Guessin’’ has charm.

‘For Guys’ Eyes Only’ has a sunny feel, ‘Tubin’ has some decent, but quite twee guitar work and and what sounds like a trumpet overdub, and ‘Grim Break’ has a certain pleasure in its discordance. There are elements within ‘Cooperation’ which are stand out a little more. There guitars are faster and slightly more garage rock during the first half of the song, complete with occasional handclaps. I’d hoped it would present something which would break away from the rest of the Pavement-obsessed material; but during the second half, things slow slightly, the guitars change to longer notes with slight vibrato and the bits where it gets very slack are so clearly influenced by material like ‘Transport is Arranged’.

On the whole, most of the songs on ‘Keep Guessin’’ could’ve fit in with Pavement’s ‘Terror Twilight’ material and the influences are so obvious. Being a big Pavement fan, I should hate this record in principle. Yet somehow, despite its largely plagiarised faux slackness, there’s a lot here to love.


January 2010

Monday, 1 November 2010

THE GENUINE FAKES - The Striped Album

genuinefakes

The Genuine Fakes are four guys from Sweden who share a love of skinny ties, moustaches, classic power pop and 90s indie-rock. In 2008 they were featured on ‘Beautiful Escape: The Songs of The Posies Revisited’, a sprawling triple-disc Posies tribute album containing a whole bunch of artistes you’ve likely never heard of, bar Ken Stringfellow, Joe Skyward and Jon Auer (that’s not at all arrogant to contribute tracks to a tribute release for your own band, is it chaps? [/sarchasm]).

For their debut full-length ‘The Striped Album’, The Genuine Fakes have created something which fuses that love of The Posies with Fountains of Wayne and a touch of Weezer, ensuring a listen which is not short on memorable hooks.

After an intro name-checking the band (an approach which reminded me of Mike Viola’s release with The Major Labels, at least in concept if not delivery), ‘The Promise’ lays most of The Genuine Fakes’ cards on the table straight away. The guitars create a wall of sound which is very Posies influenced; during the verses, Joey Fake’s crystal clear, slightly sugary vocal gets time in the spotlight, coupled with Morty Fake’s lively bass. If there’s anything which sets The Genuine Fakes apart from their similar sounding influences and contemporaries here, it’s the accompaniment from Tommy Fake, whose organ work has a slightly old fashioned quality. ‘Something New’ follows suit featuring huge jangly guitars, upfront bass and slabs of organ. Under a busy arrangement, it’s worth keeping a close ear on Morty – his bass work is very intricate, providing The Genuine Fakes with a necessary quirkiness under their otherwise fairly unrelenting wall of sound approach.

‘When Reality Hits You’ is a little simpler. A big drum sound drum sound drives the verses, but it’s the hooky chorus which aims to pull you in with multi-layered backing vocals which occasionally hint at ELO (never fashionable, I know, but power pop wouldn’t be the same without them!). Vocally, the call and response style chorus of ‘I Don’t Want It’ provides a standout moment – it certainly highlights the band’s knack for hooks, even if their arrangements can be a little full on.

After a typically crashy intro, ‘C’mon Linda’ has a spiky quality where Johnny Fake’s drumming is uncomplicated, but works well against Joey’s accompanying chords. The verses, in this respect, seem quite spacious compared to some of the band’s material, but once with multi-tracked rhythm guitars kick in on the chorus and bridge sections, they revert back to their not-so-subtle approach. As you may expect, the end result is still rather more Posies-meets-Weezer than Jellyfish or Silver Sun, but it’s certainly one of the band’s best numbers. The sugary qualities and unashamed woo-hoo’s present throughout ‘Star’ really drive home the classic power pop influences in The Genuine Fakes’ sound. The chorus harmonies are tight, the drums are solid (occasionally the cymbals are a little overdone, but there are enough layers and hooks here to distract you from those) and the swirls of keyboards have a sense of urgency.

‘Whatever Comes Your Way’ - the six minute epic which closes the album - captures The Genuine Fakes in a slightly more restrained mood. The jangly elements are still up front, but it’s all a little more relaxed (at least to begin with). For the closing instrumental part of the song, the crashing cymbals make their timely return, coupled with chiming guitars and another slab of organ (For those paying attention, you’ll spot this as being the same piece of music which provides ‘The Genuine Fakes’ intro). If there’s a slight downside to ‘The Striped Album’, it would be the lack of variety within the material – most of it comes at full pelt with little respite from the chiming guitars and crashing drums. However, listening to each song individually, there are absolutely no weak numbers here.

If the promise of catchy hooks thrown against a wall of sound is just not enough for you, ‘The Striped Album’ also includes a brilliant cover tune: Beyoncé’s ‘Irreplaceable’ appears in a great power pop arrangement. Morty Fake’s bouncy, upfront bassline provides a musical high point, while the vocals on the chorus are superb, making for a very infectious performance – and one which runs rings around the empty, mechanical approach of the original.

If you’re a fan of Fountains of Wayne, The Posies, ‘Be a Girl and ‘Bagsy Me’ era Wannadies or other similar types of jangly pop/rock, check out The Genuine Fakes – despite its lack of subtleties, ‘The Striped Album’ should appeal.


October 2010