Blanco Y Negro/xl/baggars Banquet
By: Eric Greenwood
Flirting with that ever-so-English world of whimsical pop, the Mull Historical Society dresses itself in a cloak of many colors, each one representing a different musical flavor. Like its Welsh counterpart, Super Furry Animals, Mull Historical Society relishes its offbeat fancy with an arsenal of hooks and unpredictable musical tangents.
Songwriter and vocalist Colin MacIntyre prefers his pop in the grand English tradition: cheerfully bombastic. MacIntyre clearly learned more from McCartney than he did Lennon in his Beatles upbringing, if his bright, boastful pop is any indication. He's a multi-instrumentalist with a penchant for odd noisemakers and soaring melodies. And his tongue is always planted firmly in his cheek. Those Brits- always with the irony.
"Public Service Announcement" is a rather subdued introduction to MacIntyre's kaleidoscopic world, but the pomp and circumstance of his arrangement should clue any listener in that he doesn't have an indie bone in his body. His music is joyously self-indulgent, layering multiple vocal tracks on top of concurrent melodies and myriad instruments. If there's a flaw it's MacIntyre's somewhat nasally voice, which seems more suited for a maudlin pop act than a hipster-be-damned display of jaunty kitsch.
"Watching Xanadu" is a psychoanalyst's dream with its infectious sing-ability yet darkly comedic lyrics- not to mention its references to Olivia Newton-John. MacIntyre masterfully juxtaposes isolating, contradictory lyrics against a backdrop of camp and frivolousness: "sit on your world/if I could just do what you do/if I could just be what you don't want me to be/you know it really doesn't matter it really does." The over-the-top pomposity of songs like "Instead" separates the genius from the overly ambitious. The children's choir is wholly unnecessary. Really.
When MacIntyre tries to be soulful as on "I Tried" he trips over his own inability to let the music speak for itself. He piles so many ridiculous sounds on top of one another that he sucks the blood right out of the tune. Someone needs to tell him that the silly keyboard sound effects aren't working. "Barcode Bypass" is probably the album's best hope. It's by far the most simplistic arrangement, focusing on MacIntyre's languid vocal melody. But just when you're ready to add some points to his column, he's got to go on and drag it out for seven bloody minutes.
"Only I" is Elton John by way of Liberace on Quaaludes. Cue the dramatic horn section. Just in time. And here is the background chorus of falsetto "ooh ooh ooh's." I guess when you take into account that this guy is from a dreary, remote Scottish island some of this starts to make sense. "Animal Cannabus" threatens to rock with its driving bass line and MacIntyre's punch-drunk vocals. It could easily be a single. Well, in England, anyway. It's far too weird for the U.S. charts. Actually, almost every song on here could be a single, if MacIntyre would calm down and focus. A good hook works wonders by itself. No need to drown it in superfluous instrumentation.
MacIntyre clearly has talent sweating out of his pores, but it's the self-defeating kind. Loss is an interesting album musically and intellectually, but it's not one you'll turn to for pleasure very often. There are hooks and melodies galore, but they're stymied by gratuitous self-indulgence. MacIntyre's got the chops to make a great album, but this is not it. This is just a promising album.