History has not been fair to English-cum-Canadian rock troupe, Cutting Crew. A staple of “one-hit wonder” compilations courtesy of their 1986 �ber hit single (I Just) Died In Your Arms, in fact they were one of the more genuinely inventive bands of the time, releasing three excellent studio albums that still sound fresh today.
Grinning Souls is the first album with the Cutting Crew moniker since 1992 and in truth it is vocalist/songwriter Nick Van Eede plus session musicians, a sad reflection of guitarist Kevin Macmichael’s loss through cancer in 2002.
Although Macmichael’s harder rocking tones are sorely missed, there is still much to commend here and Van Eede deserves credit for crafting a comeback that: a) stands up to either of Coldplay‘s last two efforts; and b) firmly wipes the memory of him having appeared on ITV’s horrific reality TV show, Hit Me Baby One More Time.
The opening triumvirate of Shot Of Democracy, Hard On You and Apparent Depth clearly signal that Van Eede’s ear for a top melody has not been damaged by him working on Ministry Of Sound remixes of (I Just) Died In Your Arms.
Shot Of Democracy’s driving rhythm and memorable chorus expertly counterpoint the biting lyrical commentary on George Dubya’s perceived realpolitik (“We got ourselves a new Crusade… We’ve a million Christian soldiers coming for you”); Hard On You’s use of piano-led verses simply crushes Embrace from a great height (World Cup song – pah!); while Apparent Depth – the one track featuring Macmichael – is lent extra expression through strings, a tactic also used effectively on Silhouette.
Boomerang and Understudies showcase a new side to Cutting Crew – fast, upbeat, fun, irreverent, loud, a bit punky even – and one that should be explored further; while GetupandGetoverit is a rootsy rocker brimming with cool percussion.
Van Eede’s soul may be grinning but not all his songs are winning. The title track’s moody strains linger a tad too long; Left Of Heaven is leftfield but not heavenly; and the closing minutes from GetupandGetoverit’s chaotic studio finale, through Capture’s two-minute oddity and the cinematic instrumental Lauren’s Theme are, at best, unorthodox means of concluding.
But just as Cutting Crew deserve to be remembered for more than (I Just) Died In Your Arms, so Grinning Souls is far better than its finishing straight. No doubt, Kevin would be proud.