I was flipping through the channels the other day in a rare moment of aimless channel-surfing when I stumbled upon U2: Rattle and Hum playing on Palladia, MTV’s high definition music channel. I haven’t seen that film since around the time of its release, so I decided to cut out the flipping and check it out. I was happy to find that the music, overall, was really great. The Edge’s guitar rang and chimed like only it can, and Bono’s unmistakeable voice provided the now obligatory rock star pomposity and bombast that at the time made him one of the most exciting figures in rock. There were some snags, though, such as Bono’s anti-apartheid (pronounced by the singer with an overly sincere and now laughable snarl) rant during “Silver And Gold,” that took focus away from the music and painted the band as incredibly pretentious. “Am I buggin’ ya?” Bono asks at the end of the aforementioned rant. Well… yeah, Bono, you are. Shut up and sing! It’s moments like these that made the film largely reviled upon its release, but captured within the film are still other moments that show how U2 was at one time one of the most important and best bands in the world.
Like U2, Glasgow, Scotland band Glasvegas have penchant for songs with a social conscience, though Glasvegas are more provincial in their concerns, focusing more on local British working class societal problems (knife violence, divorce, philandering, bullying, racism, etc.) than Bono’s global political scope. And, like Bono, lead singer James Allan can at times take himself just a bit too seriously. On album closer “Ice Cream Van,” Allan abandons any illusion of subtlety, heavy-handedly accusing the “powers that be” of “destroying the ground where gruesome lays/Sectarianism and the hurtful racist ways.” It’s a bit much to stomach from a pop band. However, Allan’s proclivity for grandiose emotional statements serves him much better when it is more sharply focused. He gets points for “Geraldine,” which initially appears to be a standard I-will-lift-you-up-when-you-are-down love song (“When you’re standing on the window ledge/I’ll take you back, back from the edge”), but reveals itself to actually be a tribute to the strength and guidance of social workers(!). Also immensely effective is “Daddy’s Gone,” a simple and devastating message from a boy to the father that abandoned him (“I wont be the lonely one sitting on my own and sad/a fifty year old reminiscing what I had”). Allan delivers his vocals impeccably, and his refusal to disguise his strong Glaswegian accent lends credence to his working class message.
A large selling point of Glasvegas is the music. Borrowing heavily from many influences, the band has created a huge sound that matches the arena-filling power of other major pop bands, such as Cold Play or Oasis. The lead guitar lines ring out like U2, and a heavy background fuzz reminiscent of the Jesus and Mary Chain, or more recently Interpol and Serena Maneesh, permeates every song on the album. Simple, driving drum and bass propel the songs along, and everything is polished up with a bright sheen. At times, there is an element of glossy overproduction that makes several songs sound too much alike, and the influences prominently on display lend a strange feel of familiarity and nostalgia that you can’t quite put your finger on. Glasvegas also have a few tricks up their sleeves that work in their favor, such as the occasional injection of “whoah-oh-uh-oh” and “wah-ya-ya-ya” Phil Spector-ish girl group refrains in “Flowers and Football Tops” and “Daddy’s Gone,” repectively. However, the former song has been saddled with a tacked-on coda that consists literally of Allan singing “You Are My Sunshine.” It’s a pointless and unnecessary addition that does absolutely nothing for an already strong song. Similarly, “Knife” consists entirely of a spoken word piece about knife violence delivered over Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on piano. No, I’m not kidding. Major stumbles like these keep this from being as strong a record as it could have been.
Released in the UK in September, Glasvegas’ self-titled debut was only just given a January release here in the States. The UK press has gushed over this album, with some declaring Allan a genius and a poet, and others proclaiming Glasvegas as saviors of British guitar rock. I don’t think Glasvegas have proved themselves to be any of that with this record, but I can see in them the potential to be great. However, I hope the British press hasn’t already inflated James Allan’s ego too much and given him a Jesus complex. We’ve already got one Bono. I’m not sure that we need another one.
Glasvegas – “Daddy’s Gone”