A regular column in which freaky Peter Kearns casts a spell on a bunch of new album releases! You’ll wake up screaming!
BRIAN WILSON – No Pier Pressure (Pop/USA) (Capitol)
The head Beach Boy’s current frisbee plays it very safe indeed. No Pier Pressure, which runs the gamut of MOR pop, country and soul, is not for you if you crave exciting vocal arrangements. I refer you to Smile for that. But if frequent double-tracked and auto-tuned lead vocals are your thing, you can knock yourself out.
Two songs stand out. ‘One Kind Of Love’ (single vocal this time) definitely has the strongest chorus. ‘Somewhere Quiet’ sees Wilson in fine voice, so its vocal double seems unnecessary when he’s singing better than most of the guest vocalists elsewhere.
Which brings me to Al Jardine’s vocal on ‘The Right Time’, which nicely exposes another facet of the classic Beach Boys sound, if not matching it in song quality. Nate Reuss’s vocal on ‘Saturday Night’, though technically superior to the others, comes off sounding like an American Idol contestant which, let’s face it, is bad juju. As is the obvious auto-tune present on Wilson’s ‘Our Special Love’ vocal, but curiously absent from Peter Hollens’ performance. I was anticipating singer Blondie Chaplin’s contribution after witnessing him still in fine form live as recently as 2011, but his verse on ‘Sail Away’ is stilted, making him sound hemmed in and over-directed.
Half-way breather ‘Half Moon Bay’ is the kind of instrumental filler that personified the most uninteresting corners of Pet Sounds. Around this, add a clutch of lackluster song titles – ‘Don’t Worry’, ‘Saturday Night’, ‘Tell Me Why’, ‘Sail Away’ and ‘The Last Song’ – which have all been done to death and better. Less relaxation, less singers, and more Brian and some actual peer pressure would’ve made this more satisfying.C+
MATTHEW E. WHITE – Fresh Blood (Pop-soul/USA) (Spacebomb)
Spacebomb Records founder, Matthew E. White, expects to achieve his ultimate vision in about 15 or 20 years – an unfashionable ambition in the age of the me-me-me generation of artists that want nothing less than instant gratification. White wants Spacebomb to always make better records than they made before, whether they’re his or one of their growing roster of artists. Also out of step with the times is the label’s employment of a house band of rhythm, horn and string sections in the great ‘60s tradition of LA’s Wrecking Crew, and the discographies of Stax and Tamla Motown. It’s common knowledge now that Tamla, at the height of their ‘60s success, secretly farmed out some sessions to the Wrecking Crew – that’s how good they were. Spacebomb’s arrangements are equally as good. They make the tracks pop like the finest ‘60s/’70s jukebox juju you ever heard. Where the work differs to those earlier records, at least in the case of Fresh Blood, is in the songs, which lack strong hooks and fall short of staying memorable. But White believes his song-writing is inferior – a noble and currently unheard of attitude which bears out his preparedness to improve over time. Nevertheless, he writes better than much of the competition, and until White satisfies his own high standards, there’s still he and Trey Pollard’s joint production chops, which are extensive. On paper, making Spacebomb fly in the current climate was more risky than the Russian stock market, but somehow it’s working. This combination of business smarts, talent and humility wins every time. For further evidence, refer to my review of Natalie Prass. http://witchdoctor.co.nz/index.php/2015/02/juju-jukebox-2/ B+
Quite a shift has occurred from Ben Cook’s screamo band No Warning to his current solo incarnation as Young Guv. Ripe 4 Luv alternates between brash power-pop, wet electronica and songs like ‘Crushing Sensation’ and the title track, which immerse Cook in the early Prince aesthetic of Controversy and 1999 with their choral vocal banks and chunky Telecasters. But Cook’s vocals pale in comparison and his guitar
prowess lacks the rhythmic finesse that held interest in even the weakest early Prince material – rhythm guitar parts which were immaculately played, and displayed that driving dissonant component of what became known as the Minneapolis sound. Surrounding these seeming Prince homages are a varied collection of pop slights which harakiri themselves through thin and megaphone-like lead vocals drenched in an oversupply of reverb and delay, so common now that I presume it happens out of fear of not fitting in. There’s a perfectly acceptable pop song in the title track, but the rest are mostly as ineffectual as the cliché Prince-invented text-speak that adorns the title. C+
RON SEXSMITH – Carousel One (Pop-folk/Canada) (Compass)
When it comes to Ron Sexsmith’s voice, producer Mitchell Froom is keeping things organic. Unfortunately, Ron’s earlier occasionally fluctuating pitch sounds to be in further decline. But I prefer that to how 2011’s Long Player Late Bloomer smothered his vocals in auto pitch-correct. Sexsmith has spoken of a recent throat scare, so to be fair, who knows what effect that might’ve had. All up, some nicely-written songs are here tainted not only by vocal ‘pitchiness’, but a lack of rectification. But I’m changing my tune to preferring something real like this over something that’s been tarted up. After all, originally, recording was nothing more than the capture of a moment, not endlessly screwing around afterwards trying to improve that moment – an abyss most musicians have fallen into at least once. In a time when virtually nothing is the real deal, at least Ron Sexsmith still is. B- PETER KEARNS