THE BOO RADLEYS: C'MON KIDS (1996)
1) C'mon Kids; 2) Meltin's Worm; 3) Melodies For The Deaf (Colours For The Blind); 4) Get On The Bus; 5) Everything Is Sorrow; 6) Bullfrog Green; 7) What's In The Box (See Whatcha Got); 8) Four Saints; 9) New Brighton Promenade; 10) Fortunate Sons; 11) Shelter; 12) Ride The Tiger; 13) One Last Hurrah.
Browsing through the reviews and reactions on the Boo Radleys in the mid-1990's, I was more than a little amused to see that Wake Up! was constantly seen as the band's «commercial / accessible» album and the follow-up was seen as their «experimental / adventurous» release — some even suggested that it was an intentionally «anti-commercial» record, meant to dissipate the concept of the Boos as sell-outs. I mean, for God's sake, this is a band that has always stuck to its own thang, at least as soon as they shook off the shoegaze spell, and even then, they weren't really doing it for the money or for the whole bandwagon thing — they were just going with the flow for a while, nursing their chops and looking for the real Boo Radleys.
If ʽWake Up Boo!ʼ was a commercial success, it was so accidentally: the stars just happened to align in a way that the band's rousing gust of pseudo-optimism was understood as modernistic, well in line with all the Britpop anthems of the day. It was a misunderstanding — in reality, Wake Up! (as an album) was merely the band's way of answering the question «what would the Beatles do if they were the Boo Radleys today?», and any good attempt to answer this question has a pretty decent chance of running into some commercial success, be it 1977, 1997, or 2137. Then, quite logically, C'mon Kids was merely the band's way of answering the question «what would the Beatles do next once they'd had released an album like Wake Up?» Well, they would have probably experimented some more, right? Messing around with song structures, trying out different genres and combos, taking risks, making sure the sum would be more impressive than the parts, without forgetting about the parts, right? That's what it is all about; putting it all in «commercial» terms does not make much sense. This is not the life story of Bon Jovi, or even of older bands like Heart or Genesis, that we are concerned about here.
C'Mon Kids is The Boo Radleys at their most ambitious, daring, and diverse, testing their skills and strengths to the limit — which, I guess, makes it their best album, because it is still hard to acknowledge them as anything other than «craftsmen», but «craftsmen» have one big advantage over «geniuses»: unlike genius, craft can be honed and perfected, and if you hone and perfect it long enough, you might find yourself just one small step short of genius, and this is exactly the case of C'mon Kids. There is little about the album that I love, but I admire how they really stretched out on it, with the sincerest of intentions and complete unpredictability.
The title track greets you with some party sounds, some radio waves, a distorted alt-rock riff, and a new Sice who yells his lyrics out rather than croons them. But the message? "C'mon kids, don't do yourself down, throw out your arms for a new sound, pretty face it don't mean a thing if you look so same as your crowd" — in other words, that alt-rock riffage and shouting is not meant by the band as conformism: it just so happened that... well, coincidences happen. Not to worry — already the second song, ʽMeltin's Wormʼ, is in a completely different style, or, rather, it merges elements of completely different styles. I'd call it «grunge-prog», but that's just me, and I even have no idea whatsoever of what the song is about.
It would be quite tempting to describe the album on a song-by-song basis, because it is such a treasure trove for the «classic rock fan» — almost every track has at least two or three different throwbacks, with some of the most bizarre combinations you will ever encounter. For instance, ʽGet On The Busʼ begins with an acoustic line copped from John Lennon's ʽWorking Class Heroʼ, but then quickly becomes a feedback-drenched psychedelic rocker with insane banshee-wailing guitars that could rival the Stooges, then goes back to acoustic mode, but in waltz time, echoes and organs included for haunting effect. ʽFour Saintsʼ is two quarters rowdy trip-hop, one quarter distorted rock and one quarter psychedelic folk-rock. ʽWhat's In The Boxʼ is like the Bee Gees' ʽIn My Own Timeʼ crossed with... well, something much more rough than that.
Weirdest of 'em all is ʽNew Brighton Promenadeʼ — this one starts out as a perfect impersonation of Simon & Garfunkel (I daresay that if Sice replaced Art on one of those reunion tours, nobody would have noticed — or, rather, everybody would have noticed, because Art has long since lost his voice completely, so Sice is basically the new Art now), then becomes sunny pop-rock, then throws on some distortion on both guitar and vocals, and finally erupts in an aggressively friendly wah-wah solo — take that, Mr. Simon!
Still, I will refrain from namechecking the rest of the tracks: you already get the drift, and then there's the downside — these combos are creative and diverse, but they do not feel perfectly natural to me: I do not understand why these particular songs have to be sewn together in such incongruous ways, other than acting out of a general «try anything once» principle. The album has its share of actively rocking moments and its share of beautiful moments, for sure, but as a whole, it is ultimately less than the sum of its parts — somewhat of a mess, really. Problem is, The Boo Radleys are a band who always need to work hard to prove to us the necessity for their existence, and this whirling kaleidoscope does not help — at least when they were still shoegazing, the typical Boo Radley song shared a certain definitive atmosphere, good or bad, whereas here, atmospheres come and go in the blink of an eye. What does it all mean? What does it all want to make me feel? It's like they try to hit all the buttons at once, and get it all wrong.
On the other hand, the album has growth potential — with so many different things happening, it may well be that a lot of listens are required before the initial confusion starts crystallizing into something more symmetrical and elegant. Criticisms aside, the craft alone demands a strong thumbs up: for an «indie» album circa 1996, C'mon Kids reveals a staggering amount of work, way beyond anything one could have expected from listening to the band's early albums. And I can only imagine, for instance, the reactions of some young teenager for whom this could be one of the earliest exposures to the whole art-pop-rock thing, before he started exploring all those realms from which Carr and Spice loot their influences. At the very least, I guess this is an essential record to get to know for anyone with a «systemic» interest in the 1990's pop scene — and whether or not you will want to keep it under your pillow is a different matter.