Ugly All Over

Quench won't quench anyone's desire for a draught of refreshing melody.

Revivalism is all the rage in pop music today: the one trend that hasn't

come back yet, at least on a top-40 scale, is the classic Brit-pop produced

by such tunesmiths as Squeeze.

From the sound of the Beautiful South's latest album, Quench, it

sounds as if the band, continuing in its light-pop vein, is trying to

tap into that as-yet-unexploited market.

Unfortunately, the record fails to be compelling in any way. It comes off

like a watercolor of musical elements, with hooks and instrumentation

washing all over one another, so that musical themes turn into

indistinguishable patterns, and you check your CD player to see if the

disc's somehow skipped its way back to the beginning.

Songs such as the album's opener, "How Long's a Tear Take to Dry?" (RealAudio

excerpt), and "Look What I Found in My Beer" kick off in ways

that tease at a possibility of breaking from the midtempo norm. But they

soon settle into the same ol' heavy-keyboards-and/or-guitar pattern —

with harmonies on the chorus that sound pretty enough to maybe get them

a spot on Lilith Fair.

In the end, it's only "Losing Things" (RealAudio

excerpt), a contemplative number with a hint of the Caribbean

— and "I May Be Ugly" (RealAudio

excerpt), which sounds like an ersatz fuzzy-around-the-edges Tom

Waits — that manage to stand out. And even then, you can't help

feeling you've traveled down those pop roads before.

Adding to the album's problems is the fact that the vocals almost entirely

obscure the music backing them. While the vocal superdominance of

Quench may be evidence that this is a lyricist's pop group, it

ultimately adds to the overall feeling of sameness that pervades the album.

And lyrics do predominate. In places, the lyric sheet reads like the

output of a "Difford and Tilbrook 101" class, replete with references to

drinking, to people who prove their ordinary-person status by falling

outside the standard range of attractiveness, and to sadness caused by

love and luck gone bad.

Quench sounds as if it could have been released eight or 10 years

ago, and while there is always a place for classic pop in the new-release

lists, this harking back is the album's downfall. All is familiar, but

nothing is fresh. The disc compels nothing but yawns. Quench won't

quench anyone's desire for a draught of refreshing melody.