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Friday, February 27, 2015

The Boo Radleys: Wake Up!

THE BOO RADLEYS: WAKE UP! (1995)

1) Wake Up Boo!; 2) Fairfax Scene; 3) It's Lulu; 4) Joel; 5) Find The Answer Within; 6) Reaching Out From Here; 7) Martin, Doom! It's Seven O'Clock; 8) Stuck On Amber; 9) Charles Bukowski Is Dead; 10) 4AM Conversation; 11) Twinside; 12) Wilder.

The commercial success of this album was largely associated with the rise of «Britpop», even though Carr had gone on record many times claiming that The Boo Radleys had nothing to do with «Britpop» and never tried to jump on anybody's wagon at all. As far as the early Boo Rad­leys sound is concerned, he would be deluding himself and the public, but Wake Up!, indeed, has very little to do with either Blur or Oasis. Instead, it has everything to do with the Beatles: this is as close as the band has ever come to a fanatical show of worship, and even if the results are, as usual, much less than spectacular, the strength of the drive is so ferocious that... well, imagine if the real Beatles would have put out something in 1995... come to think of it, they did, didn't they? well, ʽFree As A Birdʼ got to No. 2 on the UK charts, and ʽWake Up Boo!ʼ got to No. 9, and that's sort of about right, numerically and aesthetically.

For this record, almost every trace of the band's shoegazing past has been carefully removed. While some of the tracks still feature noisy distorted guitars, they are almost never at the center of attention — it is merely to let us know that the band does not have a special intention of «going soft», and besides, it's not as if the Beatles hadn't used any noisy distorted guitars in their life, you know. But the true ambition of these guys is indeed to make you Wake Up! — to offer an album full of beautiful, optimistic, idealistic, life-asserting psychedelic pop songs, recapturing the warm colorful vibe of the 1966-69 period, when it was vibrating all the way from Revolver to Abbey Road (the latter album is even structurally alluded to, either intentionally or subconsciously, on the last track, which cuts away as unexpectedly as ʽI Want Youʼ and is then quickly followed up by an unpredictable-unrelated closing acoustic snippet like ʽHer Majestyʼ).

Like every single attempt to directly «cop the Beatles» that I have ever heard, be it XTC or Ad­rian Belew or Apples In Stereo, Wake Up! is ultimately a failure — predictedly and expectedly a failure, I'd add, for reasons of personal and collective psychology. But like most of these attempts, that does not render the «copies» completely useless or unenjoyable or lacking a sub-identity of their own. Nor am I saying that the «copies» actually rip off any of the Beatles' melodies — that would be much too much of an oversimplification (although there certainly are some direct quo­tations, e. g. the piano chords of ʽThe Long And Winding Roadʼ on ʽWilderʼ). No, the Boos are certainly capable of writing their own songs — and that is where the problem lies: their schooling in songwriting does not agree too well with the Sixties' vibe, or, at the very least, they often have trouble finding the right bits of that vibe to insert in their compositions.

Case in point: ʽFind The Answer Withinʼ is a pretty good upbeat pop song, but for some reason, they find it a good idea to load the last minute and a half with overdubs of backward-recorded vocals. You can almost imagine the studio reasoning: «hey, great tune we get going here, but not enough of that Sixties' flavor!» — «But we've already borrowed everything!» — «Well, you can never borrow everything, really, just give another spin to your copy of Past Masters!» — «Say! What about those backward vocals on ʽRainʼ, did we ever have that?» Honestly, there is no need whatsoever for such a gimmick on this track, not after its encouraging message of "The world is at your feet / Try and make something happen", but no, they had to go out and do it.

Beatlisms are kept to a relative miminum on the album's most commercially successful single, ʽWake Up Boo!ʼ, where they opted for a rousing, almost Eurodance-like, rhythm and a large brass section to complement the impetus of "wake up it's a beautiful morning, the sun shining for your eyes". However, its romantic joy and innocence feels a little too contrived and calculated for me — even despite being lyrically tempered with the less immediately obvious verbal conclusion of "wake up it's so beautiful, for what could be the very last time", it's really a rather silly song, you know, at least for 1995; I feel unable to give in to its mechanical happiness, even if it is very hard to explain why, for instance, ʽGood Day Sunshineʼ feels so natural and easy-going, while this sunny day anthem feels so contrived.

I much prefer ʽMartin, Doom! It's Seven O'Clockʼ, which also stimulates its protagonist to "get out of bed", "the world is waiting just for you", etc., but does that at a slower, more thoughtful tempo and without hammering the repetitive hook into your head. It's a gradual six-minute build-up that could have been better arranged (for one thing, the fake synthesized horns and strings at the end really deserved to be real — as it is, the wall-of-sound approach seems misplaced), but on the symbolic level at least it does a really good job of representing a person's gradual awakening (in all senses of the word), and if any track on the album ever approaches «epic» status, it would be ʽMartinʼ. Also because it is uncluttered with vocal gimmicks: so many tracks here place their complete faith in aah-aah and ooh-ooh overdubs (some of them multi-layered, some of them phased, some of them reversed etc.) that eventually it just becomes boring.

Where they really get their stuff together is the very last song, and even then, not from the begin­ning: for the first few minutes, ʽWilderʼ just rides on a quasi-McCartney piano melody that mimics the form but misses the spirit. However, at around 3:30 into the song, it is transformed into a calm, unhurried, «introspective» jam that unexpectedly reveals a major talent in bassist Tim Brown — ironically, if there is one good thing here that they truly managed to snatch out of the Beatles' backpack and develop further, it is McCartney's bass melodicity, which Brown un­derstands perfectly well and capitalizes upon. Technically and emotionally, the jam is remini­scent of what the Beatles did on ʽDon't Let Me Downʼ — a thoughtful, seriously-playful bass groove against which the guitars and keyboards lay down some stately, economic lines, creating a feel of some sort of «mature serenity» — but here, despite being so derivative, they are also being highly successful.

It is rather weird to talk about an album's existence being essentially justified by its three-minute coda, but that's just the way it is; at least it is a major argument in support of a thumbs up, because otherwise we could get seriously irritated by the inadequacy of the «wake up!» ideology of the album. I mean, it pretends to be giving you a major ʽHey Judeʼ-an kick in the butt, but it just doesn't have enough calories to make it feel like a kick, if you know what I mean. Real admi­rable intention, though, no questions about it.

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