The musical hive of activity that is Euros Childs continues: Summer Special is his fourth album in as many years (that’s six if you include last year’s collaboration with Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake as Jonny, and his most recent, released earlier this year, First Cousins, with Meilyr Jones of The Race Horses, who also appears on his latest) with little sign of any slowing down by the former Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci frontman. The eccentric brand of psych-folk that characterised his earlier band is best summed up in their 2003-released retrospective for Welsh label Ankst, 20: Singles and Ep’s ’94-’96: 20 songs before the band were picked up by a major label that mark an incredible gear shift from garage rock to fully-formed folk ballads and beyond. The early signs of pop pastoralism on ‘Pentref With Y Mor’, strangely schizophrenic ‘Heart Of Kentucky’, Johnny Cash-meets-Can, and songs like ‘Lucy’s Hamper’ showcasing Childs impossibly winsome vocal, all hinted at the kind of creativity that was to come. The thing about a rollercoaster, though, is you have to get off at some point, so there were few surprises when he decided to go it alone in 2006. The remarkable lo-fi inventiveness of Son Of Euro Child suggests it was the right thing to do, sparking a rush of creativity since 2009. 2010′s Face Dripping marked a re-entry into cavernous krautrock, and last year’s Ends was a stark collection of melancholy vocal and piano ballads.
So Summer Special comes off the back of this experimental period in the Pembrokeshire artist’s music, but it’s actually cut him enough slack to make a pop album. Factor in his recent work with Blake, some inspiration from the most unlikely of sources: Gilbert O’Sullivan (I kid you not! Childs became a late convert, listening to O’Sullivan’s 1972 album Back To Front on a recent holiday in Jersey), and the singer’s playful ear for harmony, and you’ve got the ingredients of a Great British, albeit rather late, Summer Album.
The young man who longed to feel that summer in his heart in 2001 is a bit more circumspect about holiday romances these days. Album opener ‘Be Be High’ starts brightly enough, cooing with sweet Beach Boys harmonies and Childs’ fresh-sounding tenor. The first single ‘That’s Better’ continues the piano-driven harmonies and is obviously searching for Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ‘That’s Love’ or suchlike. The nice key change towards the end signals a drift into Dixieland jazz, but feet are placed firmly back on the ground for ‘I’m Seeing Her Tonight’, classic pop and surely an homage to Blake’s Teenage Fanclub. ‘Headphone Mona’ slows the tempo down slightly and is more like the Gorky’s of old, with traditional folk fiddle provided by Megan Childs, followed in a similar vein with ‘Clap A Chan’ sung in Welsh. ‘Roogie Boogie’ is all boogie-woogie piano and confident ’70s swagger, and likely to be the next single. The rock ‘n’ roll continues with ‘Around And Around’ which sounds like the Shangri-Las’ classic ‘Leader Of The Pack‘.
‘Painting Pictures Of Summer’ is more plaintive and melancholy, the summer love starting to unravel: “Night after night all day through/Oil paintings water colours, too/Had a love but it all went wrong/Now I’m hoping that I meet someone”. Childs spends the rest of the album reflecting on what could have been. His vocal on ‘These Dreams Of You’ is redolent of Robert Wyatt‘s ‘Sea Song’, and ‘That Good Old Fashioned Feeling’, with its reminiscences about Mum and Dad enjoying a romantic cup of coffee along with tales of teenage heartache and pain, makes it sound like another from the O’Sullivan back catalogue: what’s the betting this summer’s all going to end in tears, ‘Alone Again, Naturally’? He barely gets away with this kind of sentimentality, but Megan’s fiddle playing reminds us there’s still beer in the bottom of our glasses. ‘Skipping And Dancing’ isn’t as happy as it sounds and ‘Good Feeling’ is raking through the last embers of summer. Like its predecessor, the song is wrapped up in less than two minutes, giving Summer Special the same sort of brevity characteristic of Gorky’s late period. The summer may be over with all its hopes and dreams, but there’s still chance to enjoy one final sunset: “I don’t care what’s gone wrong/I just want to sing my song/I got a good feeling about today”. Summer romances are never what they’re cracked up to be, are they?
The laid back feeling on Summer Special is the sound of Childs easing his foot off the gas, winding the sunroof down and setting everything to cruise control. It’s a nice collection of piano-driven pop songs which go easy on the ear and gentle on our frayed late summer emotions. Call it an MOR pop album which does exactly what it says on the tin; and while the songs are pleasant enough, one senses Childs is just cleaning out the pipes ready for the next bout of frenetic activity …