The Burns Unit - Side Show

by Al Brown Rating:3 Release Date:2010-08-02

A wilfully odd release this: their press hails the eight-piece as a Scottish-Canadian supergroup, but as low-key indie-folker King Creosote is The Burns Unit's biggest name it's safe to assume irony is intended.

Things kick off pleasantly with 'Since We've Fallen Out', a swelling accordion-fuelled break-up duet (between Creosote and Scottish folkie Karine Polwart) that crescendos nicely as the song progresses. Second track 'Trouble' switches things up with a Camera Obscura-style slice of polite adult pop, glued together with a slightly annoying organ riff that sounds a bit like one of The Clangers crying. Things get really far-out on 'Send Them Kids to War' as MC Soom T takes lead vocal duties with a breathless sing-rap that sounds weirdly similar to both MIA and Colombian pop-queen Shakira.

By which point you're probably thinking "This album sounds like a real mess!", and you would be right. The angsty, rattled-off political slogans of 'Send Them Kids to War' are incredibly incongruous between 'Trouble' and 'Future Pilot A.K.C.', a King Creosote number that could have appeared on any of his solo albums.

Things continue in this consistently schizophrenic vein with the Polwart-led gothic pop of 'Blood, Ice and Ashes' which is Kate Bush-esque if I'm being charitable, and a slightly less-shit remake of Evanescence's 2003 hit 'Bring Me to Life' if I'm not. Creosote-led 'Sorrys' is short, quiet and melancholic, and by far the album's prettiest moment, mainly thanks to the angelic backing vocals. Things take a slightly camp turn with 'You Need Me to Need This', a cabaret-pastiche with verses straight out of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. An Indian-style intro and some evocative lyrics aren't really enough to save 'The Majesty of Decay' from being a fairly dull indie trudge.

'What is Life', the second Soom T number showcases more of her rather gauche sloganeering, backed with cabaret organ this time. While her voice is appealing the actual lyrics never rise above cliché. If that sounds harsh, try telling me that "Sick of television telling me what to do/ Telling you what you think is good/ Just another lie or a pill for a fool" counts as good songwriting in the year 2010. The album ends with the mournful slow-dance of 'Helpless to Turn' - a decent effort, if a little predictable.

It's really hard to know what to make of the whole thing; it's so varied, so intentionally disparate, with new lead singers being introduced all the time, it almost mocks the idea of an album as a cohesive work of art. Which I'm totally fine with: let's face it, very few bands ever come close to that supposed ideal, and most attempts at it come across as bloated and pretentious. But here too, there is a certain amount of arrogance, I feel - perhaps that's too harsh; perhaps it's naivety - in thinking that a group of, basically, strangers, with little in common musically, could come together and instantly create something interesting and high-quality for the outside world. So whether it was motivated mainly by vanity, or (hopefully) by a sense of musical friendship and enthusiasm, I'm afraid it's a failed experiment; in the end the songs just aren't good enough.

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