Say 4AD to most people and one of two types of bands are usuallymentioned. Either wispy and ethereal, such as the Cocteau Twins, orpunky and guitar driven, a la Throwing Muses, The Breeders,and most famously of the lot, Pixies.
One of 4AD’s lesser-known acts are His Name Is Alive. Despite beingaround for over ten years, they’ve never really permeated into the publicconsciousness. They started out in the ‘wispy, ethereal’ category, beforemany different augmentations of their line up meant a substantial mutationof their sound. At first listen, His Name Is Alive now sound like one ofthose jazz-funk combos so beloved of newly married couples with a penchantfor throwing dinner parties. The 4AD mark of quality means that the bandisn’t averse to some experimentation, which mixes things up nicely.
The quiet string laden build up of the opening Deep soon segues into the guitarchords of the title track, and it becomes clear that we’re dealing withsongs with a languid, late night feel to them. The hypnotic presence offormer gospel singer Lovetta Pippen towers over proceedings adding anundeniably classy sheen. It’s similar to Morcheeba at their best, butwithout the air of blandness that the latter sometimes slip into.
The quality continues with Crawling, and the sing-song chorus ofTeardrops starts off endearing and soon becomes compulsive as the songprogresses. The highlight though is I Have Special Powers, a lush balladwith Pippin at her considerable best.
There are weaknesses with this record however. The aforementionedexperimentation often veers dangerously close to self-indulgence. Forexample, the eleven minute jazz improvisation of Someday My Prince Will Come could test anybody’s patience. There is also a nagging feeling ofstyle over content – everything sounds great here, but too many of the songsare lightweight and fail to make much of an impression. The overridingimpression of some tracks on here is that of beret sporting jazz buffsnodding their head earnestly whilst trying not to look too pleased withthemselves.
It’s a shame that His Name Is Alive go down this route, as there aremoments on this album of genuine excellence. Pippin is a singer of rarequality and lifts some of the more mundane songs out of the ordinary. Thelack of substance here though means that Last Night would be more suitedfor quiet background music than anything more inspiring.