Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Plush It Real Good

Or, do I have a problem with retro pop classicism these days?

First off the conveyor belt of charity shop music this week are Plush, the rocking alias of Liam Hayes, and their second album Fed (2008).

Fed is a very high-quality stylistic exercise and - I think - I mean that as a compliment. The style in question here is early 70's soft-rock, echoing solo Lennon, Al Green, Dark Side- era-Floyd, with some of the best strings, horns and organ arrangements I've heard in a long while.

While Liam Plush self-produces, all this aural cotton candy- you might be surprised to find - has been recorded by Steve Albini and friends, taking a well earned day off from recording shouty men with tattoos. It sounds gorgeous, and you can find two examples of it here on Plush's own site.

No Education, which is pretty typical of the Fed sound (the Wall of Plush?)
the jaunty Greyhound Bus Station, which sounds uncannily like it's about to turn into the Velvets covering the theme to Only Fools and Horses.

Fed's been on my headphones for the past week, sounding great, and causing little moments of happiness every time I put it on.

Yet .... and yet yettery yet:

Liam can't really sing. We're talking nearly Curt Kirkwood from the Meat Puppets levels of not finding the right notes. And he's not trying to do this in a genre where non-singing is a virtue, no, no, no. He's set his cap at the unforgiving heights of AOR and white soul.

If Liam managed to sing the right wrong notes (hello, Edwyn Collins), or he had a distinctive writerly voice (hello, Edwyn Collins), he could probably get away with this more than he does with me.

I'm also asking myself these days - and this is not Plush's fault - how much value there is in an album which sets itself up in the shadow of the old masters. Blame Simon Reynolds, if you like. I feel that musicians who still want to do so either need to find ways of bringing the old into the new, or at least speak to the times (what I think of as the Folk Get-out Clause).

Fed does neither of these things, but it remains a glittering Faberge of an album - shiny, precious, painstakingly done, but I'm not sure what it's for.

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