THE BOO RADLEYS: KINGSIZE (1998)
1) Blue Room In Archway; 2) The Old Newsstand At Hamilton Square; 3) Free Huey; 4) Monuments For A Dead Century; 5) Heaven's At The Bottom Of This Glass; 6) Kingsize; 7) High As Monkeys; 8) Eurostar; 9) Adieu Clo Clo; 10) Jimmy Webb Is God; 11) She Is Everywhere; 12) Comb Your Hair; 13) Song From The Blueroom; 14) The Future Is Now.
The very last album by The Boo Radleys was recorded under tense conditions — Sice was already disenchanted with the band and all set to leave as soon as the chance presented itself, and very soon after Kingsize came out, Carr phoned him himself and said he was pulling the plug. Nor was the reception for the album particularly welcome. People called, and continue to call it, overlong, lacking focus, and/or just plain boring and uninspired. «Official» reviewers give it as few stars as they can allocate a formerly respectable band, and regular users complain about the lack of big hit singles to serve as anchors.
I would have joined the crowd upon first listen — the most disappointing thing for me, other than the unwarranted length, was too much reliance on mechanical funk beats that seemed to be present in every second song and reduce the record to an unwanted-unwarranted tribute to the Stone Roses or something like that. The hooks were not immediately jumping out, either, and it seemed all too easy to join the condemning crowds. Then I remembered that, after all, the Boo Radleys always had their way through craft, not genius, and craft may require more time to be appreciated, so I prepared myself for a couple more excruciating listens...
...and you know what — second and particularly third time around, it clicked, or, rather, snapped in place. The critics are damn wrong about this one, and the fans — well, the fans need to have some patience. Kingsize is long, and sometimes slow, and sometimes a little lazy, but I find this now to be easily the single most inspired and convincingly crafted collection of songs in the band's entire catalog. In fact, there is nary a clunker to be found here, and for once, it all works reasonably and logically — the songs are not clumsily collated from uncollatable ideas, as they often were on C'mon Kids, but follow their own natural paths of development and, well, develop into sometimes stunningly beautiful art-pop flowers.
ʽMonuments For A Dead Centuryʼ is the title of one of the songs, and it could, perhaps, have been a good title for the whole album. I have not paid much attention to Carr's lyrics, as usual, and maybe I am wrong about that, but I seriously doubt that detailed analysis of the words could have added to the general emotional impression — an impression of a melancholic farewell to a dream that once seemed so real, yet has always remained out of reach. Throughout the album, they are constantly saying goodbye (ʽAdieu Clo Cloʼ), nostalgizing, drowning their troubles in drink (the wonderfully titled ʽHeaven's At The Bottom Of This Glassʼ), and utilizing a whole array of instrumental techniques, from the usual distorted guitars to lush orchestral arrangements, to create their personal gallery of monuments for a dead century.
There are no highlights or lowlights, so I will just give a few random taps as examples. ʽComb Your Hairʼ is the band's tribute to Phil Spector, starting out like a good Ronettes anthem should, all echoes and big drums — pretty soon, however, we get a distorted guitar rhythm track that would never be seen on a Phil Spector record, and a chorus that throbs with lonesomeness and desperation, with a gorgeous vocal melody that is quite on the level of either the Beach Boys or ABBA. ʽHigh As Monkeysʼ is a psychedelic dance-pop track that gradually builds up tension to «implode» in a near-perfect harpsichord-and-strings chorus from which a dense cello melody smoothly leads it back upwards into the psycho-dance rave. ʽShe Is Everywhereʼ starts out as a quitely subdued rhythmic ballad with jazzy guitar, then somehow manages to become loud, noisy, melodic, and romantic all at once in the chorus (always a good idea to have a melodic guitar part outbalancing your gruff noise). And ʽHeaven's At The Bottom Of This Glassʼ is, simply put, the catchiest song they ever wrote, period. Maybe not the best — but if, by the second time it comes around to say hello to your brain, you refuse to sing along with the tagline, your only excuse is if you've just returned from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
For some reason, they chose ʽFree Hueyʼ as the lead single for the album. It is not a bad song at all, but it is highly atypical of the record — one of its most aggressively rocking funk numbers, with heavily treated, nasty-sounding guitars, Sice screaming most of the lyrics instead of singing, and very little changing dynamics throughout the song. Either they did not give a damn, or perhaps they thought that the lead single needs to have that kick-ass quality — whatever be, this might have contributed to the general sour disposition. ʽHigh As Monkeysʼ could have made a much better choice, or at least the title track, which only was the second single, and whose "how would you like to share, how would you like to share it all with me" chorus could have made a much more warm, endearing first impression. Or perhaps they should have tried it with ʽThe Old Newsstand At Hamilton Squareʼ and its nervous, spooky, James Bond-like horns and strings? Or with the affectionate tribute to Jimmy Webb (ʽJimmy Webb Is Godʼ), which climaxes with yet another magnificently engineered piano-and-orchestra arrangement, conjuring up echoes of that old Paul Buckmaster grandeur? See, just about everything here really works.
It is frustratingly ironic that the little mischievous supernatural being finally visited them in their studio hours so late in their career — but apparently, it is possible for the sleeping genius to awaken if you probe it long enough. The thing is, they really went out on a limb here with all the extra overdubs and orchestration, and suddenly, it sort of seems that this is just the way they should have been working from the beginning, and that Carr is much better at overseeing violins, cellos, and harpsichords than noisy guitars (and there are quite a few noisy guitars here, but they almost always take second or third place in the mix). This makes it into some sort of Abbey Road experience — if you know this is probably going to be your last, summon all the spirits so that they can help you make it into your best. Admittedly, I may just be going crazy, but one thing I am not being with you is dishonest — so there must be some rational explanation to why Kingsize, alone out of all Boo Radleys records, ended up affecting my emotional centers so consistently, song after song after song. Thumbs up with lots of enthusiasm, although do be warned that the record may well take a couple of intense listens to warm up to — not that this ain't the case with quite a few art-pop masterpieces.