AMAZING BLONDEL: THE AMAZING ELSIE EMERALD (2010)
1) Cool Margarita; 2) Fools Gold; 3) Maybe; 4) Fools Who Try; 5) Don't Turn Your Back; 6) High Time; 7) Next Time; 8) When I Get Home Tonight; 9) Here At Last.
Betcha didn't know about this, didja? Yes, it's the new millennium alright, and Blondel are back — as simply Blondel, slyly tossing the Amazing component into the album title, because, once again, they have returned to the Dubitable Duo of Terry Wincott and Eddie Baird, bringing the circle back full time. No idea what happened to Gladwin. Maybe he went to join the House of Lords (there actually is a John Gladwin in the House of Lords, but not that one).
Last time we saw Wincott and Baird carrying on the A.B. tradition, they were busy spoiling the band's reputation in sick, perverted ways typical of the Seventies — which, supposedly, should make one highly skeptical of the results of a second reunion of such type, because turning Amazing Blondel into a superficially commercial proposition in the 2000s would mean taking lessons from... uh... the Backstreet Boys? Maybe Taylor Swift? Yikes.
Fortunately, no. It would take a complete set of brain drains to believe that an aging folkster duo that was never able to find steady commercial success even in its prime could raise as much as half an eyebrow in an era when musical competition is fifty times as cruel as it used to be — and, lucky for them, Baird and Wincott have aged in a graceful, not demented manner. Elsie Emerald is not a masterpiece, it is not even a very good album, but it is a bunch of songs that the old guys simply wrote and recorded because they felt like it — because, well, once a songwriter, always a songwriter, and if you do write songs, you might as well want to share them.
As expected, «Blondel» in duo format steps away from pseudo-Renaissance stuff and turns to quiet acoustic folk / soft-rock. It does not quite sound like quiet acoustic folk, because on most of the songs, they include synthesized strings arrangements, giving the whole record an odd sound — imagine a generic Seventies soft-rock LP re-recorded today in your little home studio, substituting electronic instruments where possible (real drums, though). The oddest thing is, it does not sound awful! Maybe just because of the uniqueness of the approach.
Or maybe because the songs, in general, have a more tasteful atmosphere than on something like Inspiration. There are no sappy ballads; the vocals are very quiet and restrained, without ever trying to wind up to pathos or senti-falsetto (one benefit of aging — steals away your capacity for falsetto — not that it ever stopped Barry Gibb); and the duo even does its best to award each song with a modestly catchy chorus or something.
The downside is that these guys are no J. J. Cales, either, and keeping it low and hushed does not automatically make these songs into soul-delving bathyscaphes. There's no shame in singing along to pleasantly rhythmic and melodic tunes like 'Cool Margarita' and 'Fools Gold', or admiring the skill and professionalism with which they are still capable of weaving their harmonies together on 'Here At Last', but there is no discernible electric current flowing through this — just a case of two old guys who decided to give it one more try, for old times' sake. As in, «Can we prove that we can still make an album that does not suck Gerry Beckley's balls? Can we do anything to redeem the evil of Bad Dreams? Can we put up a hot young girl in a leotard on an LP sleeve and get away with it without being branded a pair of dirty old wankers?» Yeah, verily they can do all of it. Which does not, however, make The Amazing Elsie Emerald into a record that anybody, even a seasoned Amazing Blondel fan, should ever wish to own. But if you happen to run into it by accident, don't be afraid. No preliminary shots required.
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