New Zealander James Milne makes a big self-deprecating splash with this second album hidden behind his Lawrence Arabia
pseudonym. Itâ€™s an intelligent frothy mix of post-Beatles jauntiness. Thereâ€™s the nasal whine and sharp lyrical wit of Lennon whisked up with McCartneyâ€™s solo hit-and-miss poppy gymnastics - imagine a for once happy Lennon larking about on Ram
. All this comes focused through the influential melodic lens of the closer to home, more recent, but similarly rooted career of the brothers Finn â€“ with Milneâ€™s youth meaning his sound more often mirrors the restrained whackiness peddled by Split Enz. Indeed, fellow traveller and son of same Liam Finn appears on the album. However, even if the available palate is familiar, the picture painted by the shear range of sounds and ideas presented here kick any implied â€˜retroâ€™ label far into touch.As might be expected from a past member, the bounciness of the Ruby Suns is much in evidence, though without much personal experience of said band, my thoughts were instead drawn to Architecture In Helsinki on a track like â€˜Auckland CBDâ€™. Thatâ€™s â€˜central business districtâ€™ â€“ the location of this cheeky tale of young lust set to a sunny tropical shuffle. â€˜Apple Pie Bedâ€™ won what seems to be a kind of New Zealand Ivor Novello Award, and this certainly gives an indication of its pleasing charms. Equally poptastic is â€˜The Beautiful Young Crewâ€™, a gentle put-down to hipsters everywhere, whilst personal winner of the â€˜canâ€™t get it out of my brainâ€™ award might just be the chorus of â€˜Iâ€™ve Smoked Too Muchâ€™. Also to be included in the clutch of veritable chart buster material is â€˜Come On Eileenâ€™ stomping sound-alike â€˜Eye Aâ€™, though to my ears it is the least successful of the four. (Note: that particular chart is the imaginary one in my head that has a definite pervading flavour of the best of 1966-68). Meanwhile furthest from the three minute pop song in both possible senses is â€˜The Crew Of The Commodoreâ€™ â€“ a meandering pseudo psychedelic soundscape that keeps you guessing before blooming into a delicious finale meticulously just before the point of outstaying its welcome. Only the final virtually a cappella 'Dream Teacher' has a hint of over elaboration or self indulgence. Its well executed multi-tracked harmonies can be appreciated as a studio exercise, but it seems unrepresentative (if thatâ€™s not a contradiction in this varied album) and would be an unnecessary end, in sentiment and style, were it not for the fact that this is quite short at 36 minutes.This is an album chock full of inventive arrangement and delivered with bubbling gusto and a winning confidence in his own abilities that keeps everything fresh. The rare times you might begin to wonder if a song is just too querky for its own good or is about to buckle under the kitchen sink of sounds thrown into the mix, it is soon reeled back from the brink with the introduction of a killer hook or lush melody. The fact that Milne produced the album himself gives further confirmation of his skills. Now that he has moved to a UK base we may be hearing a lot more of him, which is a very, very good thing. The unashamed sentimentality is never cloying and is diluted by the clever and/or cutting words. They themselves are often self-mocking to deflect any hint of arrogance, but this consistent style of wordplay also often has the effect of deflating any deeper emotional punch. Heâ€™s more of a craggy Ray Davies documenting the minutiae of life with a touch of music hall than a crooning McCartney, but is not too far away from mining the magic mother lode of a Jonathan Richman for wit and
pathos.A superficially whimsical sounding album (if you let the edge of the lyrics slip beneath you unnoticed) that could perhaps be most easily characterised as â€˜extremely pleasantâ€™ looks unlikely to break down any barriers, and means that this may be an easily overlooked release. But do not make that mistake - it has the well-crafted feel of a long time companion and it is to be hoped the first of much more to come from this emerging talent.
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