There's a chapter missing from America's musical subconscious because we never embraced the Walker Brothers beyond a pair of brilliant ballads. That group's enormous teenybopper following in Europe made it possible for Scott Walker to release a spate of eccentric No. 1 solo albums in the late '60s, none of which made so much as a ripple on this side of the pond. Cousteau's debut is like finding a Walker album with all the eccentricities wrung out, the kind of record you can play at a dinner party without fear of someone being offended by Jacques Brel ballads about sailors who contract gonorrhea on shore leave. Cousteau lead singer Liam McKahey has his Walker baritone down cold -- listen to "The Last Good Day of the Year," which completes the impersonation with Bacharach horns, chick-chick "Walk On By" rhythm guitar and the timpani pounding behind him. Somewhere in his reclusive London apartment, you can imagine Walker scratching his head trying to recall the session.
While Cousteau goes for select retro touches like upright bass and wah-wah guitars, they're mixes and matches from several disparate eras, ensuring that this is no museum reconstruction. "One Good Reason" manages to dovetail modern sampled beats and lo-fi vocals with Beatle guitars, Brill Building horns and McKahey's gorgeous falsetto, a ringer for David Bowie during his disco era. "For heaven's sake, she turns me on," he pleads, and it's the first record in eons that sounds like a guy isn't singing to his own reflection. Unlike Sade, Cousteau isn't strictly a one-man (or woman) operation, but rather a genuinely integrated band. In this case it's keyboardist and second vocalist Davey Ray Moor who writes and produces all of the material. Moor gets lyrically fanciful on tracks like "You My Lunar Queen" and "Shades of Ruinous Blue," but the lines that ring truest are the ones that convey girl-induced misery ("I wish you were here, I wish you were her . . .").
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If America ever needed a crooner, it's right now -- an era when more words are bleeped out on radio than are actually sung. It won't be long before the industry gets hip to this adult-contemporary void and shovels a new candidate down your throat. But with Cousteau you're being handed one on a silver platter -- complete with tattoos, multiple earrings, crooked teeth and a Bing Crosby microphone. Take a listen and make it easy on yourself.