Red Light Company - Fine Fascination
I am deeply suspicious of bands who have managed to get themselves a record deal before they have even played a single gig and before they have recruited permanent members for more than half the line up. It smacks to me of either being too clever by half or a product of the fevered money-grubbing imagination of some A&R parasite in the record industry. Yet that is what vocalist-guitarist Richard Frenneaux and American bassist Shawn Day managed to do. And I still cannot decide which description is more accurate.
Red Light Company manage to sound like a cross between Interpol and Justin Hawkins formerly of the Darkness. Frenneaux's vocal style is impressively gymnastic, switching octaves from normal speaking tone to falsetto and back again within the space of a three syllable word. This is impressive and certainly lends the songs a distinct character, but after too long becomes overpowering and tends to dominate the music to the extent that the music becomes nothing more than a background to the voice.
Yet musically, these songs are by and large worth listening to. The two opening tracks, "Words of Spectacular" and "Scene Eugene" are as good an opening pair as you are going to find anywhere. The third number, "Arts and Crafts", continues along pretty much the same vein. At this point you may be forgiven for beginning to think you have a potential album of the year on your hands. By the time you get to "New Jersey Television" you could also be forgiven for thinking that this is the album Interpol should have made instead of Our Love to Admire if only they had a vocalist with the range of Frenneaux. But the closer you listen, the more you realise that first impressions are not always lasting ones. Good as Fine Fascination is on first listen (and it certainly is that), it begins to fall apart on repeated takes.
The first thing you notice is that some of the tracks are distinctly below the standard set by the opening three. "Meccano" is a lumbering sort of song which shuffles in on the back of a heavy handed keyboard and, like an unwanted guest, refuses to move until its allotted time is up. "The Alamo" becomes irritating after a while. (Note to the band: don't end an album of largely up beat, frenetic indie-pop songs with a three minute guitar drone). Others just do not hit the mark - nothing to find objectionable about, they just don't register.
The next thing to get to you is the band seem to be on a mission. They are heading for that space formerly occupied by Simple Minds as the next thing behind U2 on the stadium's list of ‘bands-who-are-big-enough-to-play-here'. If Simple Minds were nicknamed U3 at times, then Red Light Company could just be U4. Not that the album is over-produced in an all-or-nothing marketing package, like say the White Lies' To Lose My Life for example, but you just get the impression that the band are aching for that scene before them when fifty thousand kids burn their fingers with cheap cigarette lighters as "Scheme Eugene " winds down.
But the most depressing aspect is something saved for last. It took a while for this to strike me, but when it did it was so blindingly obvious I don't know why I hadn't spotted it before. The lyrics are, for the most part, absolute gibberish. If you want proof positive that an unknown number of chimps in an indeterminate number of years could not bash out on a typewriter the complete works of Shakespeare, here it is. Let's start with the triumphantly anthemic chant of "Scheme Eugene":
"What you don't have/You won't miss it when you're gone"
At first you might think that is OK, but look closely. Surely you won't miss it when it's gone and when you're gone, you won't miss anything. Or how about this from "Arts and Crafts":
"Your testimony shakes and all you want, it breaks/I would never leave/You've found somebody else, is it true?/That's real, was it you?/My mood/Is it true? That's real"
But what does it actually mean? Even when the lyrics make sense, such as the suitably dark ones on "With Lights Out", purportedly written about a friend's suicide, the song delivers them at a breakneck, up-tempo adrenaline-fuelled speed wholly out of keeping with the theme.
This may sound pernickety, but once you hear these lyrics you can't get it out of your head just how daft and meaningless they are. And that really starts to spoil the enjoyment after a while because you can't help listening for the next stupid phrase or non-sequitur. Fine Fascination is not a bad album, musically, and the vocals are something different. But it has too obvious a set of flaws to overlook. Having said that, it gets that extra half star for having the coolest album cover of the year - just before that first fuck!
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