Currently based in London, Eugene McGuinness and his band were formerly billed as Eugene + The Lizards, but Chroma marks a return to his own name. His previous albums held in high regard the post-punk revival that was championed by peers Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand but with a dive bar danceability that his colleagues ever so slightly lacked. While those two bands have gone on to expand or continue their old styles to mixed success, McGuinness has done well to cut back on Chroma by stripping away the studio fixes and leaving a solid, if clichéd, garage pop record.
There’s surely no lack of irreverency here: McGuinness says “fuck” enough times to illicit gasps from the elderly. The track Amazing Grace recalls the days when punk was more than NOFX making sex jokes for teenagers to giggle at; once upon a time, Patti Smith’s Gloria was a big deal, referencing a hallowed Christian song with a snarl and a smile. The five-minute long All In All is almost pure Blur from the Parklife days, and while the Britpop crew played that game harder and better, it’s still a decent track.
There are times where this upfrontness is a little awkward or just out of place. Early cut I Drink Your Milkshake is a rockabilly highlight, but fails to capture the irony and clout of the respective scene from There Will Be Blood; it seems more like a good idea at the time or joke within the band that doesn’t translate onto the lay listener. She Paints Houses has the same issue: McGuinness’ voice is absolutely fantastic with a gorgeous tenor and Damon Albarn upturned nose, but the lyrics are too ambiguous to have the awe value that McGuinness seeks.
As a rock record, Chroma is pretty solid. Godiva and Immortals play the MC5 repetitive but not pedestrian garage hooks that bring them through the sub-three minute run time with plenty of energy to spare. The delicate synthesizer backing to Crueller Kind gives McGuinness a subtle sensitivity that was missing on I Drink Your Milkshake.
Closer track Fairlight is a 180-degree twist for Chroma, as an album that spent 10 tracks creating a Rob Tyner image turns around and plays David Pearce of Flying Saucer Attack. It’s a love-it-or-hate-it as a track and make-it-or-break-it for the album; those who have been totally into what McGuinness is driving at here on Chroma will probably see Fairlight as a crystallization of the previous half-hour of power, whereas those who see it as pretentious will write off the rest of his game. It’s certainly the most eclectic song on the album, and one of the few (other than Immortals and All In All) that has a major instrumental and compositional change-up at all from the alternative/garage rock flow that permeates the rest of the record.
A bit of garage pop is good for the soul. While the American West Coast scenes obsess over fuzz and triptastic melodies, artists such as Eugene McGuinness stick to garage’s roots: irreverent lyricism, unabashed sexuality, and short/repetitive hooks that groove just long enough to wave away boredom. McGuinness is having a fantastic time on this album, but the try-too-hard attempts at shock value and relatively derivative riffs occasionally detract from what is an otherwise fantastic recontextualization of British alternative rock into older trends.