Lawrence Arabia - Chant Darling - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Lawrence Arabia - Chant Darling

by Rich Morris Rating:6 Release Date:2010-01-04

The second album from New Zealander James Milne, Chant Darling could be retiled Songs for the Hopelessly Snowbound, since it makes a perfect, quite undemanding musical accompaniment to a day spent resolutely indoors, drinking hot drinks and gazing at the snow piling up outside one's door. Milne doesn't have the most appealing voice, being rather reedy and thin, but he's figured out how to do a decent Lennon impression and he's clearly comfortable with that. Much of the album sounds like Lennon's more lachrymose, schmaltzy moments, particularly from his cosy later solo oeuvre. Opener 'Look Like a Fool' starts uncomfortably close to David Gray's brand of feeble whimsy, into it resolves itself into a likeably widescreen ballad. And when Milne sings "I want you", he actually manages to inject a bit of spark into it.

'Apple Pie Bed' is sprightlier, a retro-50s boogie of the kind which clogged up Top of the Pops in the 70s. In fact, it may be the only song this year which can site The Rubettes as an influence, and you can decide for yourselves if that's a good thing or not. But it highlights an intriguing vocal quality Milne possesses, again akin to Lennon, to inject a shade of ironic detachment into songs which could come across as rather mawkish in other hands. This quality, however, doesn't help to save 'Auckland CBD Part Two'; an ill-advised, stilted foray into calypso. Also unwise is 'The Beautiful Young Crew's lyrical observation: "They're afraid of each other/ because they want to screw each other," which just comes across as spiteful in Milne's mouth, rather than the pithy observations of youthful relations perfected by English songwriters such as Ray Davies and Damon Albarn.

This classic linage of observational songwriting is clearly something Milne aspires to, but too often the overly fussy arrangements or his own mocking voice contrive to puncture the picture he's constructed, pointing out it's artificiality, as on 'Eye A' with it's unconvincing jollity. It's a problem with reminds one of David Bowie's early, unloved efforts, when he thought sounding like Anthony Newly and poncing about doing mime would make him a superstar. Things go much better when both Milne's songwriting and the arrangement conspire to create a sense of mystery, as on highlight 'The Crew of the Commodore', with its echo-drenched vocals and eerie organ. Songs like this suggest Milne's project could go one of two ways: it could either be 'Stereotypes' era Blur for Melody FM listeners, or it could take a trip towards a more interesting, ambiguous sound. Here's hoping for the latter.

Richard Morris

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