REVIEWED! 1 June 2001
FEATURING: MICHAEL CARPENTER SOOP #1 THE BIGGER LOVERS How I Learned To Stop Worrying EINSTEIN'S SISTER Humble Creatures CHEESE Let It Brie NEIL FINN One Nil
resounding success of the Beatles made it virtually mandatory for recording
artists to sing their own songs. Certainly, before the 1960s, the roles of
composer and performer were largely separate ones. Of course, the mainstream pop
scene has returned to that scenario with current pop stars hardly figuring in
the songwriting arena.
the constant barrage of today's pop stars singing well-known cover tunes has
left a bad taste in serious rock and pop enthusiasts' mouths, there has emerged
another recent rising trend. This has allowed artists to record familiar
material but presented as a tribute to the composer in question or to highlight
an inventive approach that is consistent with the said musician's own sound and
the latter category, the likes of Mark Kozelek, with his acoustic, stripped down
interpretation of AC/DC songs (What's Next
to the Moon) and Jon Auer, with his idiosyncratic treatment of diverse
source material (6½) have already set
a healthy precedent for this nascent movement. Add to the list, Aussie popster
Michael Carpenter, who comes with an array of tunes that reflect his own
personal tastes and preferences.
SOOP i.e. "songs of other
people," this collection of power pop tracks will not surprise anyone
familiar with Carpenter's own material, which can be found on his excellent
albums, Baby and Hopefulness (available from
Not Lame Records). No surprise then that the selections range from breezy
folk-rock – Tom Petty’s “King’s Highway,” The Byrds version of
Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom” to Beatles-Beach Boys arch pop – “Rain,”
“I’ll Get You,” “Wild Honey” and “You So Good to Me.” Not to
mention the surprise hidden 13th track. *Sigh*
obvious perhaps is Carpenter’s decision to render Zombies’ “This Will Be
Our Year,” Springsteen’s “I Wish I Were Blind” and Sam Cooke’s
“Wonderful World” in a style that makes no compromise or deviation from
Carpenter’s recognisable pop “formula.” Which speaks volumes for
Carpenter’s pedigree and degree of confidence in his own ability. Released in
a limited run of 500 copies, I suggest you secure a copy of SOOP #1
post-haste, you will not regret it! (8)
I'm sorry, but wasn't How I Learned To Stop Worrying the title of The Beatifics' classic 1996 album?
All right, I just had to get that off
my chest. Thank you.
Fact is The Bigger Lovers' debut disc
more than lives up to this unintentional association. How could it not, I
suppose? When you consider that these Philly based fellows managed to land
vaunted producer Daniel Pressley (Breeders, Spain, Imperial Teen) and astutely
name-checked The Move's California Man,
The Soft Boys' Underwater Moonlight,
Cheap Trick's In Color, The dB's Like This, Big Star's Sister
Lovers, and The Beach Boys' Sunflower
in their bio.
Whilst you will certainly detect the
weight of these sonic milestones in songs like “Catch & Release,”
“Forever is not so long,” “Threadbare” and “Summer (of our First
Hello),” what differentiates The Bigger Lovers from your run-of-the-mill
derivative powerpop fodder is the ability to 'twang.' Yes, you heard me right.
Not surprisingly, when you realize that the Black Dog label is best known for
having previously released Marah and the Continental Drifters. Thankfully, this
scrap of history resonates stridently on songs like “Steady on Threes,”
“America Undercover” and “Out of Sight.”
Rough hewn and ragged, How I Learned How To Stop Worrying is the sound of a band with the talent and skill to blend the powerpop aesthetics of The Who, the melancholy fragility of Big Star's tender moments and the rustic heart of Neil Young. A potent recipe whichever way you look at it. (7.5)
core of power pop unit, Einstein's Sister is singer-songwriters Bill Douglas and
Kerry Tucker. This group, who hails from Illinois, has had an interesting
history thus far. Their debut album, entitled Douglas
& Tucker, impressed OarFin Records enough for the Minneapolis-based
label to take the band on as Einstein's Sister. The resulting Oceanus
(1997) was recorded in difficult circumstances as the duo fell out with the
producer and the album suffered as a result. Douglas & Tucker decided to
return to their indie roots and self-released Learning
Curves in 1999 on their own Yummy Pop Tunes. Rather unconventionally, many
of the songs were licensed for use on MTV
("Undressed," "Making The Video," "Road Rules,"
"Live Through This"), NBC ("Passions" - overseas market) and
the Oxygen Network.
Creatures, released in 2000, finds Douglas and Tucker reinforced by Andrew
Brock (bass, backing vocals), Marty Reyhons (drums, backing vocals) and Steven
Volk (guitars, backing vocals). This settled line-up has paid dividends as the
solid, tight musicianship on the album attests. Also evident is the fact that
the band's likable British new wave style (think: Squeeze, Elvis Costello and
XTC) is stronger than ever.
Definitely on songs like the dynamic
opener, “Dandelion Heart,” the floating ballad, “Come on Pariah” and the
reggae-fied ditty “Solar Circle Girl,” the band manage to evoke an uncanny
resemblance to Neil Finn and Crowded House. Elsewhere, you will find it
difficult to shake off the Squeeze/Elvis Costello references especially in the
muscular “Hey Napoleon,” the tender “Something True,” the jaunty
“Mermaid Parade” and the spy movie spoof, “This Won’t Be Home
Fans of the 80s new wave will not have much to grumble about Humble Creatures but more discerning listeners may demand a little more distinctiveness from Douglas, Tucker and band. (6.5)
Culled from recordings spread over 1994 – 1997, Let It Brie is an excellent summary of Cheese’s assimilation of early 80s sophisticated guitar pop from the UK. Serious fans of that illuminating era will have absolutely no problem with identifying the obvious influences on Cheese’s fine material.
Swindon’s finest, XTC, figure prominently in tracks like “Where Are They Now,” “He’s Hardly Office Material/All Change,” “Big Hit,” “Wyke Five-O” and the sardonic “Popular Music.” By that same token the spiky, clipped rhythms of The Buzzcocks, Wire and The Police are also evident on numbers like “Everybody’s Gone,” “Unhinged Melody” and “It’s Alright, You’ll Be Dead Soon.”
Inevitably, psychedelic elements (ala Syd Barrett/Robin Hitchcock) rear its wiggy heads on “All The Wrong Drugs,” “Meaningful Meaningless” and “All the Time In The World.”
Fittingly perhaps, Cheese’s finest three minutes (thus far) arrives at track no. 3, the rather shimmering, dream pop ballad – “Late.” Charming and melancholy, if anything it recalls the erudite touch of 10cc, a shiny gem of pop majesty!
If indeed, you are a sucker for XTC-inspired bands (e.g. Blur, Martin Newell, Sugarplastic, Jellyfish etc) then, I highly recommend Let It Brie. (7.5)
Finn continues to find himself in a little bit of a quandary. Going by his debut
solo album, Try Whistling This, it appears that he was quite
self-consciously attempting to distance himself from his Crowded House history,
yet all the attendant hype for this new album and supporting tour trumpets this
said, the material on One Nil seems to find Finn at ease with his place
in the world right now. With collaborators Wendy and Lisa (remember them from
Prince and the Revolution?), Finn has fashioned an album that keeps a fine
balance between timeless songwriting (a patented Finn asset) and modern
production and sound techniques.
like “The Climber” – with the odd combination of ukulele and e-bow fuzz
guitar; “Rest of the Day Off” – with its fluid bass and plaintive melody;
“Wherever You Are” – with its lilting chorus and haunting violin backing
from Lisa Germano; “Last to Know” – with its countrified feel; “Turn and
Run” – with its folky texture and vocal contribution from Sheryl Crow and
“Driving Me Mad” – with its likable atmosphere, provide ample evidence of
Finn’s most straightforward material since Crowded House’s Woodface.