STARSAILOR Love Is Here (Chrysalis)
Starsailor fight a losing battle before vinyl touches platter for wearing their influences so blatantly, and literally, on their sleeves. Named after a Tim Buckley album, the inner sleeve photo finds the band lounging in front of a picture of Bob Dylan (with the phrase 'Great man' writ beneath) and one that I'm 60/40 in favour of guessing is of Neil Young rather than Neil Diamond (I'm sure I see the glint of a harmonica holder, bumping the odds in favour of the former). And then there's the music, whose heft and resonance begins at that of a drop of the hard stuff for Travis and Stereophonics couples who feel like taking a risk on some 'proper' indie music and ends at Coldplay with a rootsier record collection. It resurrects the whole long-dormant argument about whether Northern boys have any business dabbling with this kind of potent Americana, last examined around the time that Gomez won the Mercury Prize. For my money, Gomez had every right, subsuming their influences into something entirely other and, ironically, more English. One listen to the tawdry "Fever", the lyrics of which seem to have been cobbled together almost totally from other people's songs ("There's a fever on the freeway", it begins, a line that will be familiar to anybody acquainted with Neil Young's "The Old Laughing Lady"; during the chorus James Walsh suggests "I must have been blind", which, coincidentally, is also a Tim Buckley tune) suggests that Starsailor haven't been quite so clever. "Good Souls" at least sees them tackle something tolerably modern by attempting to plug the gap left in the marketplace by the demise of The Verve and the unfulfilled promise of Richard Ashcroft's solo career, but without that band's sense of mystery they sound too synthetic to carry it off. Walsh's singing voice is another obstacle to enjoyment: seemingly modelled solely on Jeff Buckley's upper octave, he squawks and squeals throughout the album in a doomed attempt to whip up some second-hand emotion from these dusty songs. And whilst I'm in a whinging mode, EMI's thin, sibilant vinyl pressing is not good at all.
But there are three fine songs on "Love Is Here", songs strong enough to outrun the negative creep of all the above. "Tie Up My Hands" is a turbulent, brooding opener, "Alcoholic" a wistful tale of wasted lives, and the near-brilliance of "Talk Her Down" almost makes the whole album worthwhile, all insidious melody and lyrics that seem to be their own, or have at least had their previous owners' identities disguised before being sold on. Three songs doesn't make a summer, but at least suggest that, should they ever make a record that is genuinely their own, Starsailor might be worth closer examination.