THE BEES: OCTOPUS (2007)
1) Who Cares What The Question Is?; 2) Love In The Harbour; 3) Left Foot Stepdown; 4) Got To Let Go; 5) Listening Man; 6) Stand; 7) (This Is For The) Better Days; 8) The Ocularist; 9) Hot One!; 10) End Of The Street.
This is definitely an improvement over the relative monotonousness and pleasant mediocrity of Free The Bees, yet it still does not invalidate the point stated in that album's review — there is simply no way on Earth or in Heaven that these guys could beat the impact of Sunshine Hit Me. Fortunately, they are not obligated to do it. As long as they are able to sustain the level of fun displayed by Octopus, we can all be happy just looking at them keeping afloat.
There is some movement towards «roots-rock» and «folk-rock» here. More acoustic guitar, more emphasis on collective vocal harmonies, a more overtly laid-back, friendly, on-the-porch-like atmosphere; but a few of the songs carry on with the same jangly Brit-pop flavor of the band's second album, and a few more bring back the R&B and «Caribbean» vibes of Sunshine. In brief, it's a synthesis, and if you have already stated your goal of becoming a retro-oriented band, you might as well learn to synthesize — go all the way.
Under that sauce, the individual hooks that, on their own, may or may not be stronger than the ones on Free The Bees, still come out more distinctly. I like that playful slide guitar on the opening number, 'Who Cares What The Question Is?', quite a bit — it isn't every day that this kind of bluesy slide technique is used in the context of an overtly pop song, even if it certainly isn't the very first time someone ever thought of doing this. Or the harmonies on 'Stand', inspired by the old folk-pop tradition, but set to a steady, metronomic R&B rhythm section that wouldn't seem inappropriate in the hands of Booker T. & The MGs.
Just like before, there does not seem to be much ideological unity to all of this, except for, perhaps, some sea-related themes (rather appropriate for a band whose usual place of residence allows it to see as far as it can see and still see nothing but sea), starting from the album title (Octopus may be a bold move in the presence of the seminal Gentle Giant album of the same title, but, frankly speaking, the name is more appropriate here than it was there) and ending with the lyrics that frequently refer to seas and long distance travel. Some of the acoustically based songs could even be thought of as individualistic variations on the sea shanty thing ("Is there any love on the harbour, is there any love, is there any love?").
Nevertheless, it isn't the kind of observation that would be likely to hit you upon first listen: there certainly is no conscious attempt here to write a musical guide for aspiring seafarers (or, if there is, it is a failed one). Without any attempts at deep analysis, it is simply a collection of pretty and, this time, diverse-sounding pop tunes. In addition to the ones already mentioned, highlights would probably include 'The Ocularist' (with its super-catchy, heart-warming "It's good to get back to the sea..." chorus); 'Listening Man' (brass-led blue-eyed soul, performed in a very adequate and convincing manner); and the anthemic '(This Is For The) Better Days', with a subtle, but fabulous, funky-pop guitar arrangement.
Essentially, though, there are no bad songs here. These guys may not know, and may never learn, how to truly stun, but their ear for fine melody is still undeniable, and Octopus is just too good for us to make any reprimands on the issue of unoriginality. They are certainly squeezing the same old lemon, but yep, some juice is definitely still running down the old leg. Thumbs up.
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