Mini Mansions - The Great Pretenders - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Mini Mansions - The Great Pretenders

by Warwick Stubbs Rating:9 Release Date:2015-03-25

It’s not surprising that ‘Heart of Glass’ by Blondie was a single release by Mini Mansions in 2009, or that they even chose to cover that song, albeit in a slowed-down lethargic drawl. This band steals the best of Blondie’s beats and sass, but throw out the rock completely. This album instead replaces the guitars with an abundance of synth-horror pastiche.

This might come as a surprise, or at least a raised eyebrow of suspicion, but it’s not far off, considering that many songs invoke both melodic and humorous ideas contained in the horror genre. What probably stands out the most is the successful blend of these influences while still allowing the personality of the musicians to bolster the songs.

Their first EP, released in 2009, sounds like a mess of Beatles-styled songwriting and too much experimentation without the production to back it up. Much of the first full-length, self-titled 2010 album reined in the experimentation and focused more on the pop sensibilities while still being reminiscent of The Beatles; the limited vocal ability makes the album feel like a Failure spin-off more than anything else though.

On this release, the band has not only stepped up on the production, but have also improved the songwriting. If there are influences to be found, they are often found in strongly concentrated places, much in the same way that Scissor Sisters invoke the spirit of Elton John on ‘Take Your Mama’, but here the experimental synth side helps to distract the listener.

‘Creep’ seems derived directly from ‘Life’s a Gas’ by T.Rex – the first few notes and words combined with the laidback crawl are all there, but the song never stays in this place, almost wanting to be some parts Queen and some parts The Cars filtered through its own little horror pastiche. The fun part of that pastiche continues on ‘Fantasy’, like it was shooting for a chance to be included in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Alex Turner’s guest spot on ‘Vertigo’ brings a strong David Bowie presence to the track, in other places the vocals bring to mind the synth-psychedelic pop of Lusk, which itself had huge influences derived straight from T. Rex and obscure or forgotten pop tracks of the 70s. T. Rex rear their dream-filled heads again on ‘Heart of Stone’.

‘Mirror Mountain’ mixes the dance with groove and crazy keyboard breaks, as though the spirit of Queens of the Stone Age’s Era Vulgaris is lurking around somewhere. After hearing this, some might wonder if that album would have been more suited to a straight-up dance-rave production rather than a rock record. It’s clear that Mini Mansions want you to dance and know just how to go about doing that. They’ve heard all the best of 70s pop and are here to give you the updated synth version.

There are some things that I wish were different: Tyler Parkford’s limited vocal range doesn’t really push ‘Death is a Girl’ into pop’s high heaven. Instead it softly laments its way through the chorus rather than having a stronger attack to help contrast that part of the song from the verses.

This would also help some fantastic lyrics really stand out as well: "Even if the love was not in vain/ even if the gods forgot their names/ you can make it easy, you don’t know what you want if you wanted/ Even if the sun’s about to show/ I never stuck around to know/ I’m not afraid of the light/ I never wanted to die/ I want to live in a world where’s there’s only one day". Lyrics like this shouldn’t be drowning in the surrounding music, they should be exploited and pushed to the forefront of the mix.

This aspect is actually what happens more often when Schuman gets behind the mic, despite the fact that his vocals aren’t particularly distinctive either. However, none of these (personal) issues form blemishes on the final product.

By the end, ‘Death is a Girl’ still manages to be the standout single, yet every other song is catchy in its own way and provides a worthwhile listening experience. There’s never a dull moment, even in some of the less interesting songs like ‘Honey, I’m Home’ and ‘Double Vision’.

I can imagine some listeners thinking this is overproduced, especially considering their previous efforts, but it’s almost like this album is what they were going for all along. This isn’t a misstep, its exactly what they were working towards, and if you get caught up in the enthusiasm, it’ll seem impossible not to enjoy. And just like the first track states: "Needles and pins, nobody wins/ If you freak out I'm all in".

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