Pop Review: The trouble with corpses
Nick Hasted has been a film journalist since 1986. He writes about film, music, books and comics for The Independent, Sight & Sound, Uncut and Little White Lies. He has published two books: The Dark Story of Eminem (2002), and You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks (2011), both from Omnibus Press.
Monday 22 December 1997
Cecil Sharp House
Within earshot of London Zoo's lions, inside the splendour of the English Folk Song Society's walls, Sean O'Hagan is trying to raise a ghost. ' guiding light has wrestled with this phantom before. It's the spirit of Brian Wilson he needs. Last year, he tried to summon that spirit from the husk of Wilson himself, called in to try to heal the Beach Boys' wounds. O'Hagan failed to reunite them in the flesh. So he continues to resurrect them in his music. The first two High Llamas albums reconstituted Wilson's surf-sounds at their most melancholy, strengthened them with a dash of Steely Dan, a hint of soundtrack music. Their next album, Cold and Bouncy, will loosen those shackles. But tonight, the necrophiliac surf still washes over the Llamas.
It seems almost churlish to complain. The sounds they have made their obsession are so beautiful, after all. For a while, it is possible to lose yourself in the Smile-era glow. The strings and the brass and the clopping hooves all sit in their alloted space in the intimate intricacy of Wilson's vision. The voices harmonise, rougher than the Beach Boys, and the better for it. It's reliably pretty. Until you realise: I'veheard this all before. Why am I hearing it again?
It is not a problem for tonight's crowd, polite pop obsessives happy with old thrills. But for anyone not a member of this master-class, the magic soon fades. The surprise on which pop depends is not possible when you are working with a corpse. The melodic sense the true Wilson honed in unforgiving pop charts before he entered the laboratory which the High Llamas now worship isn't O'Hagan's. The beauty becomes indistinguishable, the more of it he piles on our plate.
Each song eventually becomes a mantra or a coda, before or after the climax, never at the point of satisfaction. Like so much current pop, O'Hagan is not only hypnotised by the recent past. He is attempting the grace and sweep of orchestral music, too. Wilson, tormented by competition with supreme talents, would have approved. But it is a distracting grail for pop, weakening its shock.
Only on the songs from Cold and Bouncy does O'Hagan push past the phantoms which bar his way. It is a record on which the Beach Boys at last fade to a trace, a record on which their ghost is laid. As trills and bleeps and brass squirt over surf-synth repetition, you can lose yourself in it. "Let's rebuild the past, 'cause the future can't last," O'Hagan sings at one point. When his music works, it does not matter when we are.
`Cold and Bouncy' (Alpaca) is out on 26 January. begin a full UK tour on 29 January at Brighton Pavilion.
Life & Style blogs
What do the emojis on Snapchat mean?
A nap a day could save your life
Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
The antidote to Tinder? Majority of dating app users want relationship, rather than hook-ups, study finds
The truth behind who really buys sex dolls, from the man who makes the most realistic ones you can buy
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says jobless migrants should be banned from entering the UK
- 1 Barbarians vs Samoa interrupted by sprinklers as fans criticise lack of Wi-Fi and poor seating at West Ham's Olympic Stadium
- 2 Caitlyn Jenner car crash: Driver who died in collision sued by surviving passengers for $18.5m
- 3 Watch the Supermoon live: How to see the brightest Moon of the year tonight
- 4 Hulk Hogan wants to be Donald Trump's running mate in the US Presidential election
- 5 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...
£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...
£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...
£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...