Album: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Up from Below, (Rough Trade)
Better luck this time for the Age of Aquarius
Sunday 09 August 2009
Almost 40 years to the day since the Manson murders is, perhaps, not the best time for this bunch of long-hairs to release their debut album.
Throw in a messianic group leader, the fact that they drive around LA in a painted bus and write lyrics that include "Run to the desert/ You will be/ All that you need to be" and it's clear that history, minus the murderous madness (hopefully), is repeating itself as farce in sunny California.
Having said that, there is also something unmistakably now about Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. If you threw Kings of Leon, Scissor Sisters and Arcade Fire into a blender, this – with an obligatory shot of wheatgrass – is exactly what you would get in your musical glass.
It's a somtimes heady brew. Sharpe – real name Alex Ebert – and his crew (which stretches from nine to 13) sing, clap and make all manner of joyous noises that make live shows raucous and rejuvenating events. Such "vibes" are harder to get across on record.
Up from Below starts promisingly with a few short foot stomps signalling the arrival of "40 Day Dream", as Sharpe bursts in with "Ooh, I've been sleeping for 40 days 'n'/ I know I'm sleeping cos this dream's too amazing". There follows a redemptive Arcade Fire-style group-singalong chorus with a "magical mystery" motif, as the spirit of the 1960s come charging triumphantly into the here and now.
It sets a standard the group can't possibly maintain and there follow songs so forgettable that it's hard to believe it takes this many people to play them. Salvation arrives again at the album's core, with two songs so fabulous they diminish still further those mediocre moments. "Home" is a psychedelic-country jam that positively whoops with delight, while "Desert Song" is as ominous and creepy as the Manson Family it evokes.
Bottom line is, if Up from Below had come out in 1969, it may well have started a musical revolution. But times have changed and the acid-fried young folk of that year played their own small part in that cultural shift. For now, it's worth popping a few of these songs on to your iPod and musing on what might have been had that hippie dream not turned so dramatically sour.
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