Courtesy of an “innovative” online release, the debut album from Codeine Velvet Club is currently trickling out track by track (well, two by two) over the next few weeks until eventually the whole album can be fully assembled like an MP3 puzzle. Alternatively, it’s possible to wait for the full release which is scheduled for the end of the year. For those of you too young to remember, releasing tracks two at a time used to be known as “releasing singles” and was considered quite a thing back in the black and white days.
Funnily enough it’s the black and white days that Codeine Velvet Club seem to be trying to evoke with their debut album, although it’s more the era of the 78rpm than 45rpm that they seem most at home with. This side project from The Fratellis front man Jon Lawler and jazz-styled songstress Lou Hickey explores a musical landscape that is awash with the a silver screen sheen and a cinematic scope.
It is occasionally rewarding, as long as you’re willing to enter fully into their world without a hint of cynicism. The moment that you notice that Lawler’s voice is pretty woeful and that some of the ideas are so clunky that Space wouldn’t have considered them is the moment that the illusion is lost and the album dissolves into farce. This moment is likely to occur during the woeful The Black Roses, so should you be grabbing the album on drip-feed then this one is worth giving a miss despite some heroic vocals from Hickey.
Managing to ignore the distinct Space/Cast/The Coral influences that make occasional appearances on Codeine Velvet Club is pretty vital, for in amongst the clumsy riffs there are some genuinely fascinating moments. The main riff for Little Sister may be torn out of the Clunky Rock guitar book, but a ’30s infused refrain, complete with rasping trumpets and Hickey’s chorus line vocal is undeniably catchy.
Opening track Hollywood is vast in scope with a cleverly orchestrated verse that gallops along like Champion The Wonder Horse. An opulent string section gives the chorus a grandiose lustre and eventually it spills out, engulfing the song in feel-good vibes. You can picture the credits rolling, while Cary Grant smiles in slow-motion – the hero once again. The addition of the odd bell and rolling rhythms mean that there’s a distinct Christmas feel to the track too, meaning that should there be a Christmas movie starring Champion The Wonder Horse and Cary Grant gathering dust on a shelf somewhere, at least there’s a ready made soundtrack for it.
Vanity Kills is similarly overblown; brass sections explode everywhere, strings dive and swell and then there’s the stupendous ear worm of a melody line. It’d be a perfect soundtrack for slightly over-produced femme fatale picture – all glamour and not a jot of plot.
The cinematic bombast of many of these tracks is enough to blast you into submission and marvel at the sheer grandeur of the sound. But the truth is that, while there are many grin inducing moments, they’re the gloss on a rather hollow conceit.
I Would Send You Roses is what Westside Story would have sounded like if it was set in Dudley and featured a face-off between Southside Johnny and Slade. The surf rock of Like A Full Moon is thrilling, though shallow. With the roar of the guitar during the solo and the brilliantly thrusting string section, this is Twin Peaks recast with Marilyn Monroe as Laura Palmer and Dick Dale as Agent Cooper.
Perhaps the best moment comes courtesy of Nevada, a soft-focus elegant waltz orchestrated by Belle And Sebastian‘s Mick Cooke. It retains the full cinematic sound of the rest of the album, but it doesn’t seem to be trying too hard to impress. All the details in the plucked strings are delightful, and bizarrely the least overblown moment is also the most enjoyable.
Codeine Velvet Club is, like most Hollywood blockbusters these days, instantly gratifying and full of spectacular moments. Unfortunately there’s not a lot going on under the surface to make it something you’ll come back to time and again. Maybe they’ll get it right for the sequel?