The Cheeks, Raw Countryside

Posted on February 1, 2010 by

Cheeky Records 8-07315-9-0012-0, 2009
Genre: Power Pop

Hooked or hoodwinked?

Litany:

Hells Bloody Bells! The production on this recording is so mannered and contrived. The band and material seem lost in its wake. Too lavish in its adornment, layering instrument upon instrument, harmony upon harmony, effect upon effect. Too slavish in its adoration of the almighty power pop aesthetic of the 60’s (at times filtered through 80’s), an irresistible touchstone in pop music, but here, it feels hijacked and hollow. The merit of a brilliant producer can’t be denied, but their hand (or sleight of hand) shouldn’t overshadow, but underscore. Many amazing recordings are even more polished and produced, but it comes down to whether a band can carry it off and whether decisions about placement and proportion of such enhancements actually work. Incredibly dodgy decisions were made on this recording, though everyone involved clearly thought: “Awesome, dude, pass the bong.” Phil Spector notwithstanding, few producers hold a gun to a bands collective head to assert their will and that’s a good thing, right? I get the feeling this band emerged in the mid to late 90s and that their previous recordings, were probably better. Sometimes a band reaches the point where they feel a need to prove they have “evolved” (usually around their 3rd recording). This urge to show that they can really play and write serious songs can result in terrible recordings. Not every band has a Rubber Soul in them, and that’s ok.

Musical instruments abound here: bongos, guitar, mandolin, keys, horns, strings, maracas, tambo, banjo, what I can only hope is Andrei Rublev’s Bell and, believe it or not, more. Self consciously clever, nudge nudge wink wink flourishes seem disingenuous, one dimensional and detract much. It’s all here: The musicianship is certainly competent. The songs are well crafted with happy hooks, nice transitions and melodic counterpoints. The lyrics aspire to a certain world weary ennui and resignation; with arch observations contrasted with reluctant romantic idealism. All things that if done with more sincerity and passion and less embellishment would make this a great recording.

Summary:

Track 1: Is this Paul Williams? Paul Westerberg? The strings, ostensibly meant to reinforce the sincerity of the over-earnest lyrics, seem maudlin. Here’s a nudge nudge wink wink part (of which there are many), they finish the song on a melodically unresolved note, as if the string section were so overwhelmed with angst they couldn’t play that last note, as if it symbolized hope, now long lost.

Track 2: Upbeat and catchy, opens with foreboding bells a’ tolling. Ironic contrast? The breakdown ending seems completely out of context. Restraint would have made this track (and others) classic.

Tracks 3 & 4: Though laden with infectious hooks, suffers from an array of self indulgent, over-the-top interludes.

Track 5: It’s wistfulness benefits from less excess.

Track 6: Borrows heavily from Starting Over by John Lennon, but he borrowed too.

Track 7: Show World era Redd Kross?

Track 8: Opens with sinister Raw Power-esque keys, echoing the haunted, self recriminatory tone of our singer. But does he mean it?

Track 9: Thankfully, more bittersweet, jangly power pop.

Track 10: This ostentatious 7 minute song begins with Bauhaus creepiness and settles into U2 cant and then slithers to hitherto unknown depths of remarkable self indulgence. Fade out song after harpsichord solo (yes, harpsichord solo) at 2.38 if you hope to retain any regard for this band and not leap forthwith out the nearest open window. The most ridiculous, utterly unsuccessful 3 minute ending (isn’t that an oxymoron?) I’ve ever heard!! Ultimately, a terrible pastiche of Tomorrow Never Knows. Though, Soylent Green doesn’t get mentioned in songs much these days. There was a time when it was all anyone sang about…

Track 11: Globe of Frogs era Robyn Hitchcock?

Track 12: Perspex Island era Robyn Hitchcock?

Track 13: Better, more heartfelt for the veneer stripping, even with psychedelic cicada outro

Grade:

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