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
Titanfall lands with a boom on Xbox One, but will it save Microsoft's console?
Tomnod: How to join the virtual search party scanning satellite imagery for missing flight MH370
Tim Berners-Lee on creating the web: 'I never expected all these cats'
Gauthier Soho has ranted against 'food blaggers' - so can we really trust online reviews?
iOS 7.1: How to get iPhone update, and what to do once you've got it
Katie Hopkins continues campaign to become Britain's most hated talking head with poorly timed Bob Crow tweet
No EU referendum under Labour: Ed Miliband to reveal that vote on membership is ‘unlikely’ in next Parliament if party wins power
Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
Europeans have ‘got whiter’ due to natural selection in past 5,000 years, scientists say
Fracking is turning the US into a bigger oil producer than Saudi Arabia
How climate change helped Genghis Khan: Scientists believe a sudden period of warmer weather allowed the Mongols to invade with such success
- 1 Tony Benn dead: Veteran Labour politician passes away at 88
- 2 Arrest made after man is found by the side of the road with his penis cut off
- 3 Tim Berners-Lee on creating the web: 'I never expected all these cats'
- 4 Gauthier Soho has ranted against 'food blaggers' - so can we really trust online reviews?
- 5 Malaysia flight MH370: Pitbull song lyrics bear uncanny resemblance to missing plane mystery, according to YouTubers
£1 per hour + TBA Daily rate: Randstad Education Reading: Youth Support Worker...
£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...
£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Are you a trained Key...
£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: We are currently look...