Monday, 20 December 2010
BLEU - Four
I have to admit, despite often reading good things about his 2002 album ‘Redhead’, I was late in discovering Bleu, first hearing him as part of The Major Labels with Ducky Carlisle and Mike Viola. The Major Labels album had some great tunes on it, but I still hadn’t been moved enough to check out Bleu’s other work. After that, I belatedly stumbled across L.E.O. – a note for note E.L.O. pastiche featuring original material written by, once again, Bleu and Viola. Somehow, though, I still hadn’t managed to hear any of Bleu’s solo output. Listening to ‘Four’, I realise I ought to have listened earlier. While ‘Four’ isn’t perfect, there are some fantastic songs to be heard.
Funded by fans, this album is a roller coaster ride full of great influences from the sixties and seventies. ‘Singin’ In Tongues’ is a rousing rock/pop number to get things underway, with Bleu’s quasi-aggressive vocal sounding a little like Gregg Alexander in places (albeit in delivery rather than tone). Among the general busyness, some of power pop’s key hallmarks are present: namely the big chorus driven by na-na’s, tinkling bells and an occasional nod to Phil Spector in the drum department. If it doesn’t grab you at first, subsequent listens pay off. The bells make a second appearance on ‘B.O.S.T.O.N.’ which is a great nugget of pop. Its chorus is a little repetitive by the end, but the overall vibe makes it a winner. Once again, musically Bleu favours an almost wall of sound approach; he played almost all of the instruments on this number himself...and it sounds superb. I challenge anyone not to have this lodged firmly in their head after hearing it a couple of times.
‘How Blue’, on the other hand, is really horrid. While the music conjures up Beatle-esque dreaminess and the strings are arranged brilliantly, the track is spoilt by Bleu’s insistence on wailing in falsetto. While this isn’t the only instance of falsetto on ‘Four’, there’s something particularly jarring about it here. Without such a vocal, this could have worked, but even then it’s not the album’s most inspiring cut. During the largely acoustic ‘Everything Is Fine’ (co-written by Jellyfish head honcho Roger Manning Jr), Bleu favours some (unnecessary) falsetto in places once again, but this time, just about carries it off. Against the acoustic work, there are string quartets, a few good vocal harmonies and even the appearance of Manning’s beloved harpsichord. While the falsetto moments may not be my bag, this number has plenty of charm, due to a definite Jellyfish influence rearing its head toward the end of the chorus.
‘When The Shit Hits The Fan’ is moody, rather powerful number. With a heavy orchestration (brilliantly arranged, it must be said), it’s a number which demonstrates the breadth of Bleu’s musical influences. The strings occasionally hint at the heartbreaking soul ballads of the sixties – and it’s their presence of those strings which makes this track so great. The strings and vocal are augmented by Ducky Carlisle on kettle drums (again very effective), while Paul Ahlstrand’s saxophones are on hand for extra colour, but are so low-key they don’t always appear necessary.
‘Evil Twin’ is a wordy, twisted drone which has an Eastern vibe. A voyage into the dark side of Bleu’s psyche, this is a number which listeners will either love or hate. The drums are heavy in places, but never dominate, while Led Zeppelin-esque acoustic guitars which provide some of the best moments. Throw in some vocals which are are impassioned, but not always friendly (their slightly threatening manner reinforced by a few unexpected backing vocals ‘ooh’s) and you have something about as far removed from retro pop as you’re likely to find on an album of this kind. The vibe stays fairly moody throught ‘Ya Catch More Flies With Vinegar’ - a long, drawn out affair constructed around a drum part played by Seth Kaspar. Its wandering nature allows Bleu to stretch out his vocal – and here, he sounds supremely confident. While, again, the arrangement has some good moments, there’s no immediate hook to pull in the listener. With its veering towards something more experimental in places, it’s obvious there’s far more to this man than some of his power pop and singer-songwriter contemporaries.
‘Dead In The Mornin’’ is a punchy, horn-filled piece of brilliance, and is one of the album’s most shamelessly upbeat numbers. Sounding like ‘Wake Up Boo’ by The Boo Radleys augmented by a gospel choir, it’s a little over the top for sure, but its enthusiasm makes it impossible to ignore. While this doesn’t have the depth of some of the album’s other material, the horn section and female vocals add plenty of energy. The jaunty music is juxtaposed with lyrics regarding Bleu’s will: ‘To mom I leave my polaroids / To dad I leave my baby boy / To my friends I leave my power chords...’ A brilliant arrangement and Bleu’s slightly skewed sense of humour make this one of ‘Four’s key tracks. For those looking for something more introspective, ‘In Love With My Lover’ presents Bleu in a more fragile mood, accompanied mostly by his acoustic guitar. He’s in good voice here, clearly capable of decent delivery on the soft stuff as well as the complex. There’s a moment midway where loud drums and horns punctuate the gentle air (again, with a soul influence); although brief, it somehow fits the piece, providing a bit of contrast.
Fans invested $40,000 and a lot of faith in Bleu to deliver a new record that was worthy of their contributions. Listeners who are willing to invest listening time are likely to discover an album that’s varied, and home to a few absolutely cracking tracks. It’s not always fun, but during those downbeat moments where the hooks aren’t always obvious, the arrangements are often fantastic. Bleu has spent his fans’ donations wisely.
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