Let It Come Down
There are a couple of different reasons longtime band members make solo albums. One is fairly legitimate: to explore musical avenues that just don't fit on your band's itinerary. The other reason is more ego-based. When people like Mick Jagger, George Michael or Pat DiNizio have taken solo plunges, the results were so consistent with the pattern of their band work, you couldn't help but wonder why a solo recording was necessary, unless it was to get more attention and a higher royalty rate.
Say this much for Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha: His solo album feels like a real solo album. No one could ever mistake any of these 11 unassuming little ditties for anything on Siamese Dream. It's no secret that Billy Corgan's second banana has a soft spot for the Eagles and a host of other '70s radio war-horses, but there hasn't been much room in the wah-wah-mad Pumpkins for Iha to manifest those kind of peaceful, easy feelings.
Contrary to the prerelease hype, Let It Come Down isn't a country album, but it's certainly a breezier collection than Iha has ever been associated with. The opening track, "Be Strong Now," sets the tone. Opening with wispy acoustic strums, the song kicks into a relaxed, midtempo, pop-rock gait, with Iha offering tentative notes of romantic reassurance: "You've gotta be strong now/If I come and hold you now/You'll be safe and sound."
If Iha's templates are Henley and Frey, his soft voice is actually much more reminiscent of another hoary '70s icon, Al Stewart. In fact, the mildly pleasant "Sound of Love" steers you through those time passages until you're swearing it's the year of the cat all over again.
Taken individually, many of the cuts are enjoyable ("Beauty" is particularly infectious, in a .38 Special sort of way), but as a group, they feel like the same song, at the same tempo, played over and over again. Much as we all suspected, a solo Iha carries none of the obnoxious pomposity and indulgence of the Pumpkins, but neither does he deliver the sonic grandeur that's their occasional saving grace. If his crimes are more modest than Corgan's, so are his achievements.
At its best, this quintet of hopeful, misanthropic Swedes canvasses terrain once suggested by the late, great Only Ones, and at its worst, it obliges the rackety ambiance of a London rave. Of the 13 songs herein, the latter occurs but once, and the former is consistent enough to offer up sucker punches to the bloated guts of any contemporary major-label, here-today, gone-today pop farce, imported or otherwise. Which, in keeping with current label/radio Zeitgeist, means ya won't hear this on your or anyone else's radio, and a hearty supply of used promo copies will magically proliferate in bins at resale record shops alongside other misfits like Longpigs, Stereophonics, Sloan, and Supergrass, who are all too smart for consumptive Anglo-Americans.
"Might Be Stars" kicks off this self-titled debut by slipping subtle bits of rock-star self-parody atop the soaring chord change popularized by the aforementioned Only Ones in that group's only stop at hitsville ("Another Girl, Another Planet"): "Pop revolutionaries/Aren't we cool/Some say we pretend/We live in a dream world." The lounged, horn-enhanced dreamscape of "Oh Yes (It's a Mess)" mines Babybird/Auteurs territory, tossing tussled, unironic clips in a full drunkard confessional, impressing upon the listener that head scribe Par Wiksten means every word: "I never seem to have a clue/Though everybody knows/I guess it's because/It's no fun, fucking someone you really like/Oh yes, it's a mess."
The most junked-up riffs come with more than just friendly nods to '60s Brit invasion and '77 London punk rock; "Because" could fit ever so snugly on the first Wire album, and "Friends" is as likely a sister to The Kinks' "David Watts" as anything by Blur, or worse, Oasis. Further riffology heightens the chorus of "Someone Somewhere" in between swinging finger-snaps, snare-brushes and lovely boy/girl harmony-rich verses.
"You and Me Song" connects bouncy Bacharachish verses to power-popped refrains adding up to a wishing man's radio hit all the way, and "Shorty" recalls Aussie tunesmiths the Go-Betweens, but with far more bravado and cool, boozy messiness. The best of the set sits midway in "How Does It Feel," a song which provides hipsway soundtrack for any bleak hangover day, pitting goose-bumpy Beatle sing-along against requisite regret and woe.
Staying true to their evolutionary antecedents, The Wannadies remain close to a tacit idea of Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll, but avoid the cliche with sheer abundance of spirit, self-mockery and sexual tension.
And Lord knows we need more like 'em.
The Bacon Brothers
The knee-jerk assumption, when one hears about an album by Kevin Bacon and his older brother, film composer Michael Bacon, is that it's a pretty-boy actor's vanity project. Actually, the lads have been playing music together since well before Kevin became a star--a clipping about their performance at a "Bangladesh Benefit," reproduced on the CD's inside cover, is dated 1972, six years before Bacon's film debut in National Lampoon's Animal House.
In any case, their clever hooks and wittily unassuming lyrics make for perfectly respectable pop listening. The songs are self-deprecating '90s-guy stuff about loving your wife and kids and mom and dad and dog, or about the restorative power of old music or of daydreaming, and the best of them--"Old Guitars," "Only a Good Woman," "Boys in Bars," "K9 Love" and the Jimmy Buffettish "Guess Again"--are really pleasant. The obligatory cover--of James Taylor's "Rainy Day Man"--doesn't endanger Taylor's standing, but there are no real clunkers. The title, incidentally, is a condensation of "folk-rock-soul-country." If FOROSOCO won't revolutionize any of these genres, it doesn't embarrass them, either.
--M. V. Moorhead