Michael Head and The Strands - The Olde World - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Michael Head and The Strands - The Olde World

by David Bruggink Rating:8 Release Date:2015-07-31

Like the Trash Can Sinatras or Del Amitri, Mick and John Head started off as impetuous, energetic jangle-poppers in The Pale Fountains before maturing into the more even-keeled Shack. Less predictable than many of their compatriots, Shack's merging of spirited acoustic guitars and tuneful psychedelic rock produced some gorgeous results, suggesting they were onto something cleverer and more sincere than most of their Britpop contemporaries (see Waterpistol's 'Undecided', for example). Even as the band was beleaguered by challenges of near biblical proportions - including the recording studio containing the master tapes of Waterpistol burning down, delaying the album's release for four years - their music attained some very positive reviews. 

The same is true for The Magical World of the Strands, created by Shack offshoot, Michael Head and the Strands. The Guardian's Andy Capper, for example, has referred to it as his "favorite album", and it's hard to argue with that assessment after hearing a track as lovely as 'Something Like You'; it's like a drowsy, elegant, street-lamp ode from Richard Hawley's Coles Corner, but a bit more down to earth, and perhaps more compelling for its lack of pretense.  

For those who had the good chance to hear Magical World, which came out all the way back in 1997, a fresh release from Michael Head and the Strands will likely come as very exciting news. Shack drew influence earlier on from the Madchester scene - not necessarily a bad thing, and they certainly did it well - but later owed more to Nick Drake and 60s pop, and these come through on The Olde Worlde

'Fin, Sophie, Bobby and Lance' is an early album highlight, recalling Shack's success with acoustic-driven, jangly but complex tracks like 'Byrds Turn to Stone'. While there's nothing as nakedly emotive as 'Loaded Man', The Olde Worlde does share its predecessor's ability to keep the listener on his or her toes as the music strays from pastoral folk and fuzzed-out pop to flirting with outright beauty. One is reminded from time to time of Belle & Sebastian, although Mick Head's voice has an endearing roughness to it, a reminder of his tenure as leader of a Britpop band and the cynical vocal tone that seems to entail.

A handful of the tracks are reworked versions of songs from Magical World, like 'Glynys & Jaqui', 'And Luna', and 'It's Harvest Time', but they've been rejigged sufficiently to feel fresh. 'Something Like You (Quartet)' wisely expands one of the first album's prettiest background components into one of the second album's prettiest songs. The Nick Drake influence comes through particularly strong on 'And Luna', on which the drums have been stripped and the melodies embellished with ethereal vocals and strings to haunting effect.

Though I was disappointed not to hear more brand new material, The Olde Worlde is a strong introduction to a wonderful body of work, as well as a great companion to its predecessor. It feels refreshingly candid and unpretentious, bearing no aspirations of stadium-sized anthems, indie-rock credibility, or (God forbid) the affected moroseness of the post-punk revival. How often does that come along?

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