Album Reviews

Derek Meins – The Famous Poet

(1965) UK release date: 21 July 2008

The precocious Derek Meins has already been responsible for two well received albums on Rough Trade as the frontman of Eastern Lane, and now, at the tender age of 21, he’s back with an underachieving little mini-album on 1965 Records.

The Famous Poet is a strange beast: half poetry, half indie-pop, and together these two genres have birthed an album whose two halves combine into something less than the sum of their parts.

If this album was meant to showcase Meins’ identity as an idiosyncratic frontman who had successfully thrown off the shackles of Eastern Lane to reveal his solo talents, it’s something of a failure. Meins always sounded at home in Eastern Lane, his reverb-drenched vocals prompting comparisons with Billy Childish or even, as he’d scramble and yelp for some impossibly highly pitched note, Jack White.

But Eastern Lane were a band of many talents, and Meins sounded most at home when they were playing the kind of relaxed, prosaic pop that Rough Trade bands have excelled in since the year dot. No surprise, then, that the most successful tunes here are exactly those that remind one of Meins’ old band.

The Gin Song (sample lyric: “if the ocean was made out of gin, maybe I would learn how to swim”) shimmies along gently on a tide of soft guitars, piano and softly brushed drums; End of Man is more robust, but still well-mannered enough to remind one of the stately march of Radiohead‘s Karma Police; and Honeygirl is a delight, a cracked acoustic ditty that morphs into a rawnd-the-ol-Joanna knees up before softly returning to Meins and guitar.

Bookending these songs, however, are the spoken-word delights of Meins, in his ‘Famous Poet’ mode. Famous? Maybe, but fame is a fickle and unreliable mistress, and four tracks of Meins ranting into the microphone while en-un-ci-at-ing like an Eliaz Doolittle understudy on ether is not my idea of an entertaining time.

Do I just not get it? Maybe, but unlikely: I like Ivor Cutler as much as the next man, will quite happily listen to The Blue Aeroplanes‘ mix of guitars and beat, and enjoy the lugubrious tones of Simon Armitage whenever he pops up on the wireless.

What I don’t like is being forced to listen to someone read out his lyrics in lieu of penning a decent tune to go along with them. Apparently, Meins recently stated that he’s “happy with the poet laureate of indie tag”. He won’t have it for long if he continues to churn out albums like this.

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