REVIEWED! 1 June 2001


Big Radio

The 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.  

Whilst 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 vision. 

In 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 () 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. 

Titled 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*  

Less 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)

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How I Learned To Stop Worrying
Black Dog Records

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)

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Humble Creatures
Yummy Pop Tunes

The 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. 

Humble 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 Someday.” 

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)

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Let It Brie
Pink Hedgehog Records

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)

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One Nil

Neil 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 association loudly. 

That 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. 

Songs 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. (8)

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