By Dancing Mice
In the normal course of events, it's blindingly obvious from the outset how many stars an album is likely to be awarded. The numbers present themselves up front, and the text will follow. With this album, however, the blurb writes itself but it could have scored anything from three to five stars, depending upon the prevailing mood. In the end I've decided to split the difference, but it's one hell of an interesting offering whichever way you look at it.
There have been times when I seriously thought that I'd been presented with the new Forever Changes, at others merely a well polished set of carefully varied plagiarism. In the final reckoning, however, I'd say that whilst this disc is not about to turn the musical world upon its head, it does deserve a damned good listen.
I don't know much about the band other than that they hail from Edinburgh and have a sleeve artist who clearly loves his Penguin classic literature. From the music, however, I detect that these guys have assimilated an awful lot of decent sounds in their time. The vocals are redolent of an Arthur Lee reared in dreich Lothian climes, and the vintage keyboards certainly sit neatly with this ominous psych-tinged heritage. However, it's clear from the outset that this band have a record collection that extends slightly further than late 60s West Coast pop.
Opener "It's Abnormal" is a punchy slice of jangly new wave guitars, but it's not necessarily a sign of things to come. "Cindy Does It Better" is like the Blue Nile being goaded from their sparse territory by a neurotic Donald Fagan. And "Tamagotchi Girl" is the first overt homage to Love; an appropriately jaunty minor key soundtracking of domestic paranoia. From here on, however, things take a turn towards the less obvious.
One hears "Pink Storm" as through blocked ears, but "Wounded Woman" as if one's nose has been pushed against the speaker stack; an oddly contrasting two track departure. "Chosen Hills", on the other hand, is a return to blissed-out hippydom, albeit with entertaining references to British, rather than clichéd American. geography.
As if to willfully confuse the listener, this is followed by a couple of tracks exploring a jaunty dub / ska / reggae vibe; unlikely to win any accolades for originality, but listenable nonetheless. Next "Pictures of Biggles", whilst largely forgettable, is scarcely the worst track recorded this year, whilst "Kelticfunfair" starts with a backward glance towards the Incredible String Band before suddenly morphing into a brooding Eno-esque soundscape. The Scots / Germanic crossover of the sound should have been predictable from the title, I suppose.
And then, for the final track, we have "Golden Girl". This seems to encapsulate most of the above-listed disparate influences in a single tune. However, it has to be said that anyone expecting to put the CD back on the shelf with a hummable refrain on their lips will be left disappointed. As such it sums up the album; an offering of consistent solidity, but with no obvious singles.
To call it merely workmanlike, however, would be to miss the point. To listen to Eroded is to spend 53 minutes in the presence of challenging and thought provoking musicianship and lyricism. It may not be the new Forever Changes, but at the same time I take some comfort in the fact that no-one recognized the worth of that album at the time either. Go on - buy this album: you may just find yourself with a classic on your hands once the revisionist music historians of twenty years hence have had their say.