Friday, September 5, 2008

Captain Wilberforce -- Everyone Loves A Villain (2008)

Captain Wilberforce -- Everyone Loves A Villain (Blue Tuxedo)

I listened to the first Captain Wilberforce album a couple of years ago or so, thought it was pretty nice, and then didn’t get around to reviewing it. That was a mistake, as I could have been on the ground floor, so to speak, in touting a really talented British popmeister, Simon Bristoll.

On the second Wilberforce full length, Bristoll makes good on the promise of the debut with a mature, intelligent pop record, laden with strong melodies, hooky choruses and smart lyrics. To top it all off, Bristoll has one of those smooth pop voices that fits a variety of approaches. Vocally, he sometimes reminds me of Stephen Duffy of The Lilac Time, Glen Tilbrook of Squeeze, and the late, great Wiz of Mega City Four, both in tone and the expressiveness of his voice.

Musically, Bristoll has a widescreen approach to pop, in line with acts like Cosmic Rough Riders and Teenage Fanclub. The guitars are prominent, but the mix is never crowded. It’s a spacious sound that perfectly suits the vocals and makes some of these songs particularly emotionally resonant.

One track that really grabs the heart is "The Longest Night". This song really hits me the way some of the mid-period Mega City Four tracks did back in the ‘90s (which is, for me, extremely high praise). The approach is low key dynamics, Bristoll’s voice often in front of sparse instrumentation, contrasted by parts where the guitars unleash some of the underlying emotions coming forth in the lyrics about a relationship gone bad. Meanwhile, the song is so strong melodically, with about four or five great melodic parts seamlessly pieced together for a stupendous pop-rock number.

This is followed by another fantastic track, "The Girl Who Broke Her Own Heart". This is an aching ballad with string accompaniment. It’s an immediately captivating song, mixing a dramatic verse with a chorus that builds and moves to a great conclusion. This is songwriting on par with Neil Finn, Elvis Costello and Andy Partridge.

Bristoll hasn’t quite consistently reached that level, but there are other songs here that show that getting there is a distinct possibility. The album opener, "No Strings or Ties", is an urgent rock tune that simply soars, with yet another thrilling chorus. "Born Again Brand New Man" is rooted in ‘60s Brit pop (yep, The Beatles, The Move, Bee Gees, and so on), though it takes advantage of modern technology with farty synthesizer noises that add a touch of whimsy to the proceedings. There’s more of that great guitar work on "Confetti, Champagne and Roses", a swell piece of observational songwriting that backs up my earlier mention of the Lilac Time.

What more can I say? I really dig this record. It’s certainly one of the top pop records of 2008.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great review of a great cd. I just ordered this one and the first cd from cdbaby. This is why I read blogs: to be alerted to music I wouldn't normally find on my own. Thanks!