Cat's Eyes - Cat's Eyes - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Cat's Eyes - Cat's Eyes

by Rich Morris Rating:6 Release Date:2011-04-11

The 'indie-boy-60s-influenced-side-poject' is rapidly becoming a fixture of the UK pop landscape. Over the last few years, we've had Alex Turner's Last Shadow Puppets, Stuart Murdoch's God Help the Girl, The ludicrously influential Versions by Mark Ronson and, less successfully, Codeine Velvet Club featuring him out of The Fratellis. Most of these projects have spotlighted the wispy vocal talents of a female collaborator, and erstwhile Horrors main man Faris Badwan has stuck to this template for Cat's Eyes, at least on a surface level.

Badwan's partner in Cat Eyes is Rachel Zeffira, an operatically-trained singer (although you wouldn't know it from the restrained, doped-up singing she contributes to most of this album). The melodrama and heartache of early 60s girl-group pop is the starting point for much of the material on Cat's Eyes. Badwan and Zeffira have cultivated the echo-laden and sometimes beguilingly wonky quality of that era's productions, most notably those of Shadow Morton and Phil Spector. Thankfully, they've stayed away from the clichéd Ronettes drum-beat which crops up in the output of almost every 60s-influenced band (you know the one I mean).

Yet there's more happening on Cat's Eyes than just run-of-the-mill pastiche. True, songs such as the opening title track, 'Face in the Crowd', 'Bandit' and 'Not a Friend' pretty faithfully recreate the sounds of prime Shangri-Las, Lee Hazlewood and Burt Bacharach. However, anyone thinking they're in for an uncomplicated exercise in nostalgia worship is in for a surprise. For a start, swirling synths, effects and primitive drum machine rhythms appear on several tracks, most effectively on the drifting, placid 'Best Person I Know', which sounds like Donna Summer having a post-'I Feel Love' hump-fest fag and 'Over You', a stomping album highlight which evolves from string-laden drama to disco celebration of emancipation before abruptly halting after two-and-a-half minutes.

Then there are the songs which skip 60 pop altogether and go for something far darker. 'Sooner or Later' is a scraping, industrial dirge sung in a scary/funny monotone by Badwan. It sounds like something off Scott Walker's nigh-unlistenable Tilt. There are also delicate orchestral pieces such as 'The Lull' and 'I'm Not Stupid' which feel indebted to musical theatre. Such range is surprising from Badwan, who not so long ago was being written off as an NME-hyped, joke goth. Thank the heavens he earned a reprieve from the scrapheap with 2009's second Horrors album, the revelatory Primary Colours.

However, perhaps because of these twists and changes in style, Cat's Eyes never really feels lik a coherent album. Zeffira's slightly bland and characterless voice must also take some of the blame. In general, 60s girl groups such as The Shangri-Las, The Velvelettes and The Ronettes had a force of character which compensated for their sometimes restricted vocal ranges. Apparently, the album is a documentation of a love affair from inception to disintegration, but this slightly trite concept never really comes across. Nor do the lyrical concerns hold one's attention for long. Really, the music, the atmosphere, is all here.

Badwan is proving himself a master at hopping from one sound to the next, deploying and interbreeding styles with skill and panache. Yet, as great a talent as this is, we are still waiting to see any genuine emotional depth in his songwriting. The unfettered drama of 60 pop could have been the perfect context, but I guess we'll have to wait until The Horrors' next album to find out if we can catch a glimpse of the man behind the bat's nest hair.

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