is the first 'solo' album by Stew
of The Negro Problem
. While it features every member of that band on various tracks (including Probyn Gregory
, also of The Wondermints
and Brian Wilson
's band) - especially Heidi Rodewald
, who performs on every track, and duets on several - it has a much more 'singer songwriter' feel to it.
The liner notes compare him to Arthur Lee, Stephen Sondheim and Jimmy Webb, and all these are valid comparisons, but not ones I'd use, except maybe Lee. But the music is more 'mainstream' than Love, and has more comprehensible lyrics.
(Saying that, I still haven't made out the full lyrics to many of the more heavily arranged tracks, and given the ones I have managed, it's probable that the others are far stranger than I've portrayed them).
Cavity the opener, is one of the weaker tracks but also one of the more radio friendly. A slow soul ballad , it has religious overtones with its lyrics about 'Sister Mary' and 'Brother Lazarus', but seems basically a love song.
She's Really Daddy Feelgood is probably at least in part a reference to the simillarly named Love song Feel Daddy Feelgood but this is the better song, a funky organ-based song with a very catchy chorus. Stew is unfortunately almost unique these days in making music that contains both 'white' and 'black' elements (and no, Lenny Kravitz does not count), and his soulful singing combines well with the melodic garage rock of this song.
Essence is a beautiful little gentle acoustic ballad - the first on the album. A gorgeous little melody, some nice 12-string and backing vocals from Gregory, and a simple but effective lyric make this the first highlight of the album.
Re-Hab is the best track by far on the album. The simple acoustic arrangement shows the wit of Stew's lyrics better than on most of the album (I still haven't made all of them out on many songs - unfortunately, as he's one of the best lyricists working today). A simple nursery-rhyme melody works well with the poignantly funny lyrics about a 'rehab junkie' - "When she got out of re-hab for the third or fourth time I could see, well, a kind of pattern forming/So I plotted carefully how to bow out gracefully, cos I've seen this film before and it gets boring", and the chorus "When she got out of rehab for the (xth) time she was very very very very very very very very very very very optimistic" gets sadder and funnier each time you hear it. A bittersweet classic.
Into Me is a very catchy song let down by a somewhat bland arrangement, which seems to be about a man exploring anal pleasure, with the chorus 'She got into me'.
Ordinary Love is a simply beautiful piano-based ballad. "Her face is no longer the sun in which I bask/I'm still fascinated by the mask behind the mask".
Man In A Dress is a wonderful little comedy number, made to sound like a 20s crooner song mastered from a 78rpm record, about how the solution to your problems is a man in a dress.
The Stepford Lives could easily have been recorded by the Kinks ca 1966, with lyrics about suburban tedium and secrets, set to a complex baroque melody.
Bijou is another acoustic ballad, with lyrics about sexual perversions and crime, with a vaguely 'european' sound.
Sister/Mother is a gentle ballad asking a woman for protection - 'I'm in need of a hundred thousand dollar witness' - with another gorgeous melody, and a 12-string guitar sounding remarkably like a harpsichord. Heidi's vocals are particularly strong on this one.
C'Mon Everybody is a silly pop ditty made to sound like late-60s/early-70s sunshine pop at its best, like The Cowsills but better - the kind of thing The Partridge Family would have done had they been talented (if you can imagine such a thing). A fitting closer to an album which, if a little musically of a piece (the songs sound perhaps too close to each other), is one of the best released in years.
The album is available on The Telegraph Company Records, including a vinyl version with an extra track that I haven't been able to track down.