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Monday, September 28, 2015

Brinsley Schwarz: The New Favourites Of Brinsley Schwarz


1) (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding?; 2) Ever Since You're Gone; 3) The Ugly Things; 4) I Got The Real Thing; 5) The Look That's In Your Eye Tonight; 6) Now's The Time; 7) Small Town, Big City; 8) Trying To Live My Life Without You; 9) I Like You, I Don't Love You; 10) Down In The Dive.

For their last album, Brinsley Schwarz turned to Dave Edmunds, already a minor celebrity in his own right, an avid lover of early pre-Beatles rock'n'roll who would as much want to impose that love on others as dwell in it himself — and indeed, The New Favourites should have rather been titled The New Old Favourites, since it just might be the single most retro-oriented Brinsley Schwarz album there ever was.

It does begin with what is arguably Nick Lowe's most famous song — the catchy pop anthem in support of idealistic ideals that would, however, only truly catch on in the popular conscience with the Elvis Costello cover several years later (and then be cemented even later with the version from the Bodyguard soundtrack, but we will try to erase that from the record). You could argue that this song, too, is «retro» in a way — advocating for a fallback from decadence and cynicism to the naïve, but noble (if also somewhat mythical) sentiments of the previous decade — but mu­sically, it should probably be described as «power pop», punchy, muscular, employing the three-chord punch of ʽBaba O'Rileyʼ (to weaker effect, though), and quite modern for 1974. It's not a great song in terms of composition, but Lowe makes an excellent, passionate vocal run towards the chorus resolution, and at the very least, comes across as a convincing spokesman for the cause — no wonder the song was endorsed for the Vote For Change tour in 2004 (even if the election results that year ultimately showed that something really was very funny about peace, love, and under­standing, but that's really beyond the point...).

Nothing else on the album, however, even begins to approach the anthemic fire of that song: all the other songs are quite down-homey, humble, and formulaic in comparison. Symbolically, one of the record's two covers is ʽNow's The Timeʼ, a very early, very simple and naïve pop song by The Hollies — not a songwriting gem like ʽBus Stopʼ or ʽKing Midas In Reverseʼ, but a generic early Merseybeat-style ditty that the Schwarzes perform with their usual diligence, yet how could they ever beat the Hollies' harmonies — their only serious advantage as of 1963, and one which still makes these early ditties outstandingly enjoyable, as opposed to this immediately forgettable cover? The second cover, by the way, is much more recent — Otis Clay's ʽTrying To Live My Life Without Youʼ, but, again, it is not clear how the band can improve on the song or make it more interesting in at least some respect.

Most of the «originals» also turn out to be pastiches and imitations — like ʽSmall Town, Big Cityʼ, which is essentially ʽAlley Oopʼ with new lyrics — and it looks like the band is not even trying to cover that up; maybe Edmunds was the one who convinced them that «good bands bor­row, great bands steal», but they got the causation wrong — it's not «if you steal, you're a great band», it's «if you're a great band, you steal», and because of this, here we have a good band stea­ling, which is embarrassing. I am not 100% sure that each and every one of these chord progres­sions had already been used in some pop / rock / country song in the 1950s/1960s, largely be­cause my memory is not vast enough to stockpile all those chord progressions, but it does honest­ly feel like this is the case, and then the idea of Brinsley Schwarz as the Stray Cats of the 1970s or something like that just doesn't seem so hot — except for the tactical idea of preserving the pleasures and vibes of pre-Beatles entertainment in the mid-1970s, which has been inevitably obsolete since, well, the mid-1970s, there is nothing about this music that elevates it above «listenable if you are ever forced to listen to it, so cross it off the Guantanamo list».

Since Brinsley Schwarz disbanded in 1975, The New Favourites could be regarded as one last bluff, undertaken to revitalize their image — and I am not saying it could not have worked, be­cause a large part of the world, fed up with progressive, glam, and Californian soft-rock, might have welcomed a retro-twist like this, were it properly presented. But this was a weak band from the very beginning, and even the addition of a dedicated producer could not have made it any stronger. Besides, the presence here of ʽPeace, Love, And Understandingʼ shows that Lowe could write passionate and powerful songs, at least occasionally — the logical question then being, why couldn't they write any more like that, instead of focusing on low-key secondhand stuff. Perhaps they didn't want to, because low-key secondhand stuff was what they really liked — in which case, well, they arguably got what they deserved.


  1. By virtue of the song's appearance on The Bodyguard soundtrack, Nick Lowe said he made far more money from that album than anything he did in his proper discography—and in spite of the fact that, as far as he can tell, the song isn't anywhere to be heard in the movie.

  2. I can't help it: each and every time the chorus is repeated and they go 'Aaah' I expect them to sing 'Jesus was a crossmaker'. Anything silly about that?