Recently I was checking out album reviews at Rolling Stone. There is a band called Alvvays that got a four star review and thought I’d investigate further. I liked what I heard in the samples, as I am a fan of finely crafted girl pop melodies and fast picked jangle guitar playing, and I though I would investigate further. The record is even produced as if it came from that interesting period of early 80’s post punk, when real alternative music to the mainstream was quite interesting. The production is muddy in the right way that adds a bit of mystery to the proceedings, although it continues the terrible trend of mixing the vocals low, so that most of the words are lost on you without a lyric booklet.
They band has a keyboard player as well as featuring two guitars, and the keyboards add just enough of an extra dimension at times so the music doesn’t seem completely formulaic. The melodies are effervescent in the way that Kirsty MacColl’s were, although the singer, Molly Revkin, does not possess the unique personality or wit of the undeniably great Kirsty MacColl.
But the more I listen to the band the more the music dissipates. The lyrics are clever in that cute kind of way, but nothing more. The music sounds great, in that kind of way that would make it perfect listening to an afternoon of reading or talking to a friend, but again the more I pay attention the less I seem to care. I can’t help but feel that this is an almost great record. But at the end of the day it feels like style over substance.
There is some nifty guitar playing going on, and again the melodies are quite good. However, I wish there were lyrics that lived up to the rest of the proceedings. I wish there were words that were either simple and universal poetry the way old 60’s pop songs used to be, or even better conveyed some kind of subversive intelligence that made you feel as if something was on the line.
Recently I have been listening to Louder than Bombs by the Smiths. The music on the Alvvays record seems quite influenced by Johnny Marr’s jingle jangle guitar, but without any of the weirder eccentricities that he would often introduce into the music. And again the lyrics fall far short of a Morrissey or even a Kirsty MacColl. (Johnny Marr was in the Smiths with Morrissey and also wrote with Kirsty MacColl.) I feel like I can neither relate to the lyrics on any day to day basis, nor are any secrets of the universe being unlocked.
As far as first albums go, there is enough in the way of style to think that there might be a promising future ahead. However, to do something great they are going to need to push themselves further and, especially lyrically, to think more outside the box. The lyrics are just clever enough to make you realize that they are not dumb. I hope that Miss Rankin, or whoever writes the lyrics, will keep reading and pushing herself. If you are looking for some good summer background music this album does have its charms. However, if you are looking for something more substantial look elsewhere.