The evolution of the Boo Radleys roughly follows the timeline of 1990s British pop guitar. Ichabod and me, the 1990 debut album from the Merseyside quartet, fronted by guitarist Martin Carr and vocalist Simon “Sice” Rowbottom, was one-piece with the overdriven, hyperspace sound of bands like Teenage Fanclub and Swervedriver. When the Boos announced their split after the 1998 exit Big size, they had adopted sharper, more direct melodies closer in spirit to contemporaries Blur and the Verve. The fulcrum of this progression was the years 1993 Giant stepa masterpiece that perfectly marries the band’s psychedelic introspection and eardrum-assaulting volume: an album equally crucial to the canons of Britpop and shoegaze.
No matter how pop and accessible their music was, the single “Wake Up Boo!” landed at No. 9 in the UK – the Boos continually added volatile elements to the mix via slashing guitar work or production techniques borrowed from dub reggae and electronic dance music. These radical components are not found on keep on falling, the band’s first new album in 24 years. Tellingly, this is also their first outing without Carr, their primary songwriter and chief architect who was responsible for much of the Boos’ unconventional sounds.
Carr’s absence is an important detail in this new chapter in the band’s history, and the result is obvious when the first singles from keep on falling abandoned last year. Both songs – “A Full Syringe and Memories of You” and “I’ve Had Enough I’m Out” – are well constructed and catchy, led by Sice’s ever-robust vocals and peppered with shrill synths and a touch of of strings. But, as with most of the album, these tracks are never more than pleasantly vanilla: pleasant to listen to but need a bit more fuel and fire to help turn it into a good Britpop record. into an excellent record by Boo Radleys.
“A Full Syringe and Memories of You” is the best example of the album’s valiant but often disappointing efforts. The song seems to have been built from the title, with enough classic turns of phrase to go beyond a toxic relationship. “I can do it/I’m not dumb/It ends here,” Sice sings. The music mostly keeps a warm mid-tempo swing, and its glamorous bridge is mean but muted. It’s the kind of song that in previous years would have boiled and splashed, but here it just simmers.
Surrounding this song is a lot of frictionless, nostalgia-inducing material. Amorous tunes “Tonight” and “Call Your Name” pass without incident, while the multi-track harmonies of “Keep On With Falling” and reggae interludes on “I Say a Lot of Things” return to fan favorites like “Wake Up- you boo!” and Giant step“” Lazare “. In the album’s strongest moments, the Boos find that lush middle ground where shoegaze and Britpop mingle, as on the scintillating “All Along” and the breathless “I Can’t Be What”. You Want Me to Be”.
Boos’ current lineup deserve credit for daring to step forward under their old moniker, knowing full well that anything they did would be held to the high standards of their previous Carr-led efforts. But if keep on falling reveals something is that the group’s success in the 90s was due to the musical chemistry of the core quartet. Sice, Brown, and drummer Rob Cieka were flexible, free-flowing musicians, able to follow Carr along any winding path he blazed through the pop landscape. Remove any component from this formula and it wouldn’t be the same. The proof is here in this well-intentioned but watered-down comeback.
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