BERNARD BUTLER The Garage Tapes (Creation)
BERNARD BUTLER People Move On (Creation)
Exhibit A: "People Move On" (whether the title is observational or an instruction is never clarified), the first solo album from the former Suede, McAlmont & Butler and Verve (for a week, at least) guitarist, hailed by his boss Alan McGee as "a Neil Young for the 90s" (which does sorta make you wonder what Neil Young would make of hyperbole like that). Butler wrote, produced, sang and played all of "People Move On", save for the drums, strings, sax and some high-profile but mixed-to-oblivion backing vocals from Denise Johnson and Edwyn Collins. Very precocious, you may think, but remember that Butler was also one half of the creative partnership responsible for the original 90s new-prog classic album, Suedes "Dog Man Star", as well as one of the decades greatest singles in McAlmont & Butlers "Yes". This carnt help but stack up to making "People Move On" a Very Important Album Indeed.
Which it may be, but for me the reality is distinctly underwhelming, probably the opposite effect to that intended by its creator. Because, like "Be Here Now", "People Move On" is a massive album, twelve tracks sinking under a Titanic weight of overdubs and studio trickery, many of which seem to be making it their business to sound busy. It sounds like it really wants to be substantial and important...which isnt quite the same thing as actually being substantial and important.
There is much that is, well, nice here. Butler sings (and this is the first time weve heard him sing, of course, in his half-dozen years in the pop firmament) in a high if slightly characterless voice which underlies the Neil Young comparisons, and writes pleasant, slightly empty songs about his wife, his child, the tribulations of being a rock God, that sort of thing. (If youve heard Rides unhappy final album "Tarantula" youll already be familiar with the territory). Theres none of the lyrical thunder that Bert brought to "Dog Man Star", and equally no vocalising to match McAlmonts swooping and swooning. When its good - see the title track for evidence, born of recollections of Butlers time selling newspapers in London (can you imagine a Suede song about that?) or "Woman I Know"s slow-sliding grace and majesty - its, well, good, and when it isnt its still average.
What "People Move On" isnt however, is a challenge, either for its creator or the listener. Have we been spoilt over the last year, or is it really too much to expect every high profile release to be as paradigm-shiftingly stunning as (and here come the familiar gang of five) "Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space", "OK Computer", "Vanishing Point", "Urban Hymns" or "When I Was Born For The 7th Time"? Bernies debut sounds more like every great early 70s album you can think of bereft of exactly the qualities that make it special - try and imagine "Every Picture Tells A Story" or "Ooh La La" without Rod the Mods laryngitic singing or The Faces good-natured pub-rock rumble, "After The Goldrush" less Neil Youngs edge-of-madness desperation, "Exile On Main St" played by session musicians, "Electric Warrior" (which Im listening to as I type this) with lyrics that make sense.
Then theres the bits that are just too kitsch to be kitsch. Moments that the good taste police have taken down for use in evidence against include: the "Within You Without You" string arrangement that closes "Change Of Heart", the wash of "I Am The Walrus" style psychedelic soup that drowns out the end of "Autograph", the use of the line "Cos all I need in my hands is an electric guitar" (followed by obligatory widdly-widdly bit) within a built-up area and receiving stolen goods, namely Crosby, Stills, Nash & Youngs "Our House", here given a respray and a new set of number plates and sold on as "You Light The Fire".
Hes tapped into the sound, but not the soul, of a rich reservoir of classic rock, but in doing so has Butler made a record thats any less of an exquisitely preserved museum piece than a kagoul shops worth of Noelrockers could muster? I think not.
Exhibit B: "The Garage Tapes" is a cassette given away by the NME that contains versions of "People Move On", "Stay" and "Im Tired", recorded at Bernies solo gigs at The Garage, London, during March. Its the sound of one man with just his songs and an acoustic guitar for protection, and it contains the glorious essence of what "People Move On" couldve been before it became overdubbed and overblown. All of a sudden the "Neil Young for the 90s" comparisons make sense, and you note that, well, the first Neil Young album wasnt all that marvellous either. (Well, I think its terrific, but rock history has rather given it the cold shoulder). Whatever, "The Garage Tapes" seems to suggest that maybe the best of Butler is yet to come.
McAlmont & Butler