New York-by-way-of-Leeds-England Spacehog could easily go the way of
Like that now-acclaimed Brit-rock group that was first written off as a
one-hit "Creep"-y wonder, Spacehog hit it off the bat with their
Bowie-echoing debut single "In the Meantime" -- from their debut,
Resident Alien -- a radio-hungry track that might have tagged them
as the same.
Like critics' darlings Radiohead, though, Spacehog seem to have more in mind.
The Chinese Album (March 10) isn't a concept album, but Spacehog do
get conceptual on a few tracks. It's also not packed with dire messages
about the future, but that's OK, too. The quartet, led by singer/bassist
Royston Langdon and lead guitarist Richard Steel, with Antony Langdon on
rhythm guitar and vocals and Jonny Cragg on drums, traverse a surprising
range of music styles on the 12-track album.
The leadoff track, "One of These Days," opens with a slightly out-of-tune
piano, scratching beats and a freaky robot voice chanting an unintelligible
mantra. The trip-hop-like track, which features the stark couplet "like
Christmas in April/ one of these days/ is like time in a row/ one of these
days/ is like a disco on death row/ when the music is over/ save the last
dance for me," is sung by Royston Langdon in a smooth, Iggy Pop lounge
voice. The robot vocals throughout the track are provided by a third
Langdon brother, Christian.
Continuing their fascination with mid-period Bowie glitter glam, the bouncy
"Goodbye Violet Race" is strident, shameless glam-pop, as is the first
single, "Mongo City," a trashy, sexy glam tune that pays homage to the sky
city of superhero Flash Gordon fame.
The most surprising tune on the album is the skittering-tempo "Almond
Kisses," a jazzy, mid-tempo ballad on which Royston Langdon's voice is
intertwined almost seamlessly with that of R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe.
The duo's voices, harmonizing sweetly on lines such as "slow breeze
slipping through my fingers/ gold dreams ejected from my mind/ wet face
pressed against a window/ a neon tear illuminates the sign," are barely
distinguishable from one another.
The band tries its hand at a number of other styles over the course of the
album: including the bizarre barbershop-quartet interlude "Skylark," the
rubbery jazz of "Sand in Your Eyes," on which Royston Langdon's voice is a
desperate hiccup, and the magnum opus of the album, "2nd Ave. (Isle of
Manhattan)." This sprawling, five-and-a-quarter-minute track begins as a
slinky blues number with Royston Langdon crooning in a rumbling loverman
voice on a joyous homage to his adopted hometown, only to break into a
creepy polka midway through, which then gives way to a full-on baroque
opera-jam complete with an over-the-top diva belting out the group's lyrics
with classical aplomb.
Other results of genre-blending are the country-glam song "Anonymous" and
the track "Lucy's Shoes," which changes moods from a mid-tempo Diamond
Dogs-era Bowie-homage to a bizarre mix of vintage Boz Scaggs colliding
with Brian Eno. Call it end-of-the-millennium jazz-rock that feels much
longer and bigger than a mere four-minute pop song.
Also included on the album are "Carry On," the new-wave ditty "Captain
Freemans" and the swelling, album-closing ballad "Beautiful Girl."
Color="#720418">[Fri., Jan. 23, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]