ALLO DARLIN': ALLO DARLIN' (2010)
1) Dreaming; 2) The Polaroid Song; 3) Silver Dollars; 4) Kiss Your Lips; 5) Heartbeat Chilli; 6) If Loneliness Was Art; 7) Woody Allen; 8) Let's Go Swimming; 9) My Heart Is A Drummer; 10) What Will Be Will Be.
Approximately thirty years before this day, the timeless American pop band Blondie released Eat To The Beat, one of their finest collections, not the least because it started off with 'Dreaming', a totally stunning combination of appropriately dreamy gorgeousness with a kick-ass rhythmic section. Now, in 2010, a British twee pop band, playing music about as light and quirky as Blondie used to be, and also consisting of a female frontwoman and several smarty-pants male instrumentalists, releases its self-titled debut LP whose first song is also called 'Dreaming'. Coincidence? Symbolic gesture/tribute? Or a subconsciously orchestrated trick from God's naughty brain?
«Twee pop», I gotta tell you this, is a strange phenomenon, somewhat akin to a bunch of grown-up mommys and daddys secretly sneaking in the kid's nursery and perusing his electric trains and tin soldiers while he's sleeping (not that there's anything wrong with that). In other words, it mimics the naïveté and innocence of days long gone by, when you know for a fact that no sane (or even insane) person in our modern world can truly share those feelings — all the really naïve human beings just latch on to Miley Cyrus or take Rebecca Black's 'Friday' for serious.
Allo Darlin' are no exception. Australia-born Elizabeth Morris is the principal mastermind here behind all the songs, and she is at once overwhelmingly charismatic and utterly frustrating — for every simple, unadorned discharge of sexuality there must be a self-consciously intellectual flourish, for every "I'm here because I love you" or "Come over, give your heart to me" there must either be a reference to Wild Strawberries (but then, if she doesn't popularize Maestro Bergman, who will?) or a sly quotation from Johnny Cash (and God only knows what else I've missed).
On the other hand, intellectuals need to get laid, too, and they certainly won't be doing it to the soundtracks of American Idol. And if anything, Allo Darlin's take on the traditional love song genre (ten takes, I mean) is not without its own individual merits.
The grandest of which, actually, is that these ten songs are good pop songs — not simply retroish nothings clad in professional retro arrangements (although all the arrangements are in extremely good taste, and none of that lo-fi crap), but, like, real songs with interesting melodies and lots of emphasis on the instrumental side. As a vocalist, Morris is not very capable; she has this husky hushy sexy thing going on, which she can sometimes elevate to a happy childish yell ('Kiss Your Lips'), nothing else, and, perhaps because of this, her vocal melodies seem poorly thought out — no truly catchy choruses or anything (in fact, many of the lyrics are just a bunch of prose impressionism rudely and unconvincingly stuffed inside the song's rhythmic structure). But she and the rest of the band keep coming up with pretty pop riffs — time after time after time, the songs hook you right from the very first seconds.
Certainly this band's 'Dreaming' will never replace that other band's 'Dreaming', but there is still something utterly fresh and juicy about that chugging guitar line and how it is then underpinned by the ukulele rhythm and electric dream-poppy overdubs. The jumping Beatles For Sale-ish jangle of 'The Polaroid Song', the opening bassline of 'Silver Dollars', the droning style of 'Kiss Your Lips', all great starts, and although most songs never progress far beyond the greatness of the opening five or so seconds, well... you could complain likewise about Beatles For Sale, for that matter. It's only pop music, for God's sake.
As they find out themselves that the main choruses aren't doing their job as fine as they should be, the band isn't even afraid to throw in a few really cheap thrills — such as the "sha-la-las" on 'If Loneliness Was Art', which still plays to their advantage because it's so, you know, RETRO: who the heck wants to attract attention these days by singing "sha-la-la"? From the other side, no hip person will bypass an album with a song called 'Woody Allen' on it (yes, the one that namedrops both Annie Hall and Manhattan, and throws in the Bergman references as a bonus — all in the same innocent kiddie tone that makes matters so befuddling).
Still, every album like this, in order to gain its thumbs up, has to have at least one magic moment during which it is clear (to me, the thumbs-upper) that the band has IT, and the way I see it, that particular moment which makes me yearn for more from these guys arrives no earlier than at 1:40 into the next-to-last number, 'My Heart Is A Drummer' — a simple, but description-defying patch of musical bliss.
From here on, Elizabeth Morris and the boys may go on to bigger things (Allo Darlin' is as perfectly humble, although not entirely «unpretentious», beginning to a modern career in pop as can be thought of), or they may stick to the same formula for decades, or they may burst and blow away next Saturday, like so many twee pop bands before them (they don't call it «twee» for nothing, you know), but I only know that I'm perfectly sure to return to this album some day in the future, which is probably the awesomest compliment I could ever give a 21st century record.
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