THE BOO RADLEYS: ICHABOD AND I (1990)
1) Eleanor Everything; 2) Bodenheim Jr.; 3) Catweazle; 4) Sweet Salad Birth; 5) Hip Clown Rag; 6) Walking 5th Carnival; 7) Kaleidoscope; 8) Happens To Us All.
Listening to and looking at the Boo Radleys' not-too-promising debut album — shorter than half an hour and only ever released in LP format — one can hardly get rid of the feeling that these well-meaning English lads are far more literate than they are talented. Quite possibly, some kid, or maybe several kids, may have looked at the album cover and asked themselves the question: «What is a Boo Radley?» and «What the heck is an ichabod?» and consequently discover Harper Lee and Washington Irving. (Nothing wrong about a little idealistic dreaming! and I am not being condescending here — hell, I should probably confess that I had no idea who was Bodenheim before stumbling upon the second track here, either).
The songs, however, do not offer much of interest, and the band themselves have tagged these 28 minutes as a purely formative stage, way too much influenced by contemporary noise and grunge bands to have anything close to its own identity. Lo-fi, overloud, and looking as if most of the melodies were thrown together in about two minutes each, Ichabod And I simply does not stand a chance against... well, anything, but most importantly, it explores the same territory that was already thoroughly explored by My Bloody Valentine on their debut and would be explored even more thoroughly on Loveless next year — namely, the idea of marrying «dirt» with «beauty» and turning them into an unseparable Holy Duality where one does not exist without the other.
The idea of combining tenderly lyrical «flower power» vocals of Sice Rowbottom with the jarring, crushing guitar drone of Martin Carr is not at all original, but it could work — provided they had discovered how to make the experience memorable, or at least engineered the right balance between these two extremes in the studio. The latter task is tremendously hard (and constitutes, for instance, my biggest issue with the already mentioned Loveless), but it doesn't seem as if they even began worrying about it. The guitars simply stomp in, killing everything that moves (ʽEleanor Everythingʼ and ʽHappens To Us Allʼ, bookmarking the record, are extreme examples of this approach), and the vocals are buried so deep that, by the time you have finally dug them out, your shovels will be dented and your interest dissipated. It does not help that the guitars do not play any interesting melodies and are, at best, sloppified variations on classic Black Sabbath riffs (e.g. ʽBodenheim Jr.ʼ = ʽAfter Foreverʼ, much tortured and disfigured).
Even if the song starts out with a nice little Sixties-style jangle-pop riff (ʽCatweazleʼ), within a matter of seconds it gets drowned in sludge; only ʽWalking 5th Carnivalʼ escapes this cruel fate by reaching a compromise — there will be a nasty-sounding, but distinctive wah-wah riff here, as well as several acoustic-based sections, apart from the regular distorted stuff; ironically, it is also the song with the most boring vocal part on the album...
To put it bluntly, Ichabod And I largely sucks, and the band's decision to bury it right there in Sleepy Hollow is understandable. Now that the era of the Holy Download is upon us, it is not a big problem to bring back the ghost, but there is really no need to hunt for this obscurity unless you happen to be a really big fan of the band and have a scientific interest in their roots. Well, this is one of those «roots-obsessed» high school-level debuts that deserves all the severity of a thumbs down; fortunately, the band's CD-era output would soon prove that the Boo Radleys were ready to work hard on their image, until that whole «scary on the outside / beautiful on the inside» thing actually became real.