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Friday, February 13, 2015

The Boo Radleys: Learning To Walk


1) Kaleidoscope; 2) How I Feel; 3) Aldous; 4) Swansong; 5) The Finest Kiss; 6) Tortoiseshell; 7) Bluebird; 8) Naomi; 9) Alone Again Or; 10) Everybird; 11) Sometime Soon She Said; 12) Foster's Van; 13) Song For Up!; 14) Boo! Faith.

Formally this is a compilation, but it feels logical to discuss it right after Everything's Alright Forever, since it neatly summarizes and closes the door on the first part of the Boo Radleys' career. This one puts together three separate EPs that the band put out in 1990 and 1991: Kalei­doscope, Every Heaven, and Boo! Up, and throws in two covers for good measure — a Boo Radleys-style transformation of Love's classic ʽAlone Again Orʼ, and a similar re-construction of New Order's ʽTrue Faithʼ (whose title is mutated to ʽBoo! Faithʼ).

The first track, ʽKaleidoscopeʼ, is somewhat symbolic — it is a re-recording of one of the tracks from the unfortunate Ichabod, longer, denser, and in much better sound quality, showing how much the band really cared about «going professional» in those early days. Not only is more and better emphasis placed on Sice's «tragic hero» vocals, but the guitars are brighter and janglier as well, with several «noise patterns» intersecting with each other and genuinely attempting to create a kaleidoscopic feeling.

However, after that there is really very little development: most of the songs on these three EPs sound very much alike, and all the standard complaints about their brand of noise-pop apply here in equal measure, even if repeated listens eventually bring out the occasional flash of psychedelic beauty in the vocal hooks of ʽSwansongʼ or ʽBluebirdʼ. And even so, they make a big mistake by following those two early EPs up with the cover of ʽAlone Again Orʼ — this is one of Arthur Lee's best songs ever, and the tearful gorgeousness of its romantic vocal melody immediately ex­poses the Boos as incapable mediocrities in comparison. The cover is actually quite good — the noise-pop arrangement still preserves the original's melodicity, and Sice's style is ideally suited to imitating and recreating Lee's «plaintive» attitudes. But when the cover is so much better than the originals... well, you know.

A few first seeds of upcoming changes can be spotted on the third EP, Boo! Up. ʽEverybirdʼ places its bets not so much on the predictable noise sections as it does on the quieter, acoustic parts where they sound not unlike Pink Floyd in their post-Barrett / pre-Dark Side days; ʽSome­time Soon She Saidʼ has their tightest rhythm section up to date, with drummer Rob Cieka kicking those skins so loudly and precisely that he just might steal your audio-attention away from all the feedback; and ʽSong For Up!ʼ has a quirky instrumental section where the band's patented noisy jam schtick gradually emerges from a softer, dronier, maybe even jazzier passage. In other words, they are beginning to build up on their original foundation, cautiously testing different possible outlets — still only very cautiously, though.

On the whole, thanks to its chronologically diverse nature, Learning To Walk is a less difficult record to assimilate than Everything's Alright Forever, and it may give a slightly more favo­rable impression of the band — on the other hand, it still does not prepare you for the artistic transformation that they would very soon go through, and I can only heartily recommend it for all those who love their pop standards to be burnt to a crisp in carcinogenic feedback, and decline to take 'em any other way.

1 comment:

  1. I think Alone Again was written by Bryan Maclean, that's what your old website says. Anyway, this description reminds me of my experiences listening to Bauhaus where I liked the sound of the band but I thought their covers of Bowie / T.Rex material were so superior to the band's own songs it made me think less of the band.