Gene - Drawn To The Deep End - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Gene - Drawn To The Deep End

by David Bruggink Rating:7 Release Date:2014-02-03

It would not be a surprise to me if, for many from the UK, Britpop now fits in the wider spectrum of British music in the same way that grunge music fits into American music, which is to say, many of us would be fine with never hearing any of it ever again.

Coming from the other side of the pond, I'm prone to viewing Britpop through rose-colored glasses; after all, I only have a vague sense of the political and cultural context that it came from. Not having been present for any of it, I sometimes find myself fascinated by the romanticized version of London in the 90s that's conjured in my mind when I hear tracks like 'The Drugs Don't Work' or 'She Bangs the Drums.' Hearing such songs 20 years later, their hedonistic and rebellious tendencies feel kind of quaint in an era where the musical landscape has been redefined by bands espousing a more post-modern view of life; just try playing 'Idioteque' and 'Champagne Supernova' back to back.

It would be easy to categorize Gene's Drawn to the Deep End as the same kind of nostalgic idealism, especially since it bears many of the standard Britpop trappings (Byrds-y twang; stadium-ready choruses; plentiful acoustic guitars). However, a closer listen reveals a solid album that's a little more heartfelt than one would expect, and not without a few songs that could compete with the best that Britpop had to offer.

The bits of feedback, manipulated noise and airiness of opener 'New Amusements' briefly suggest that Gene have fully reinvented themselves after the Smiths-related criticisms thrown at their debut. It's more Bark Psychosis than 'Wonderwall,' but after a couple minutes, the song suddenly kicks up the pace with driving acoustic guitars à la The Woodentops, and you're greeted by Martin Rossiter's emotive voice.

Comparisons to Morrissey aside, Rossiter's singing on the album can feel affected at times - perhaps unavoidable, given his trademark warble - but he favors emotion over aloofness, and on a track like 'Speak to Me Someone' he seems to have the perfect combination of earnestness and fragility.

In fact, 'Speak to Me Someone' is one of the rare songs in my collection that has actually brought me to tears. I'm not the kind of person who regularly bawls while listening to Josh Groban, but something about the plain desperation of the words and the way the band comes together sublimely for the song's multiple peaks is quite moving. A full album of the quality of 'Speak to Me Someone' would've made Drawn to the Deep End one of the 90s essential releases; as it is, it stands as the record's high point.

A close second is 'Where Are They Now?', which offers a compelling argument that Gene were at their best when their sound was restrained, pairing their jangly roots with bittersweet melodies. The breezy melodicism of 'Long Sleeves for the Summer' brings to mind The Trash Can Sinatras' gorgeous I've Seen Everything, though its chorus also provides one of the album's few moments that's directly reminiscent of The Smiths.

'Long Sleeves' is a good example of the album's strengths and weaknesses. The louder moments - most of the album's choruses - are reflective of Gene's identity as a rock band, but they can feel forced and overly busy (with the exception of 'Speak to Me Someone'). However, there's such beauty in Drawn's softer moments that it nearly redeems itself; one only wishes that the balance might have been a bit smoother.

The expanded reissue, which includes live versions of album tracks as well as some b-sides and covers, is mostly a diehard-fans-only affair, although there are a few b-sides that could've fit comfortably on the original album ('Dolce & Gabbana or Nowt', 'Cast Out in the Seventies').

There's no question that Gene deserves more recognition than simply being known as a Smiths knockoff, and Drawn to the Deep End does more than just document the band as they sought to break away from that assocation. Its best tracks show that they, unlike many of their contemporaries, were capable of writing memorable songs with a deep emotional impact, even within a format as unlikely as Britpop.

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