Say 4AD to most people and one of two types of bands are usually mentioned. Either wispy and ethereal, such as the Cocteau Twins, or punky 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 being around for over 10 years, they’ve never really permeated into the public consciousness. They started out in the ‘wispy, ethereal’ category, before many different augmentations of their line up meant a substantial mutation of their sound. At first listen, His Name Is Alive now sound like one oft hose jazz-funk combos so beloved of newly married couples with a penchant for throwing dinner parties. The 4AD mark of quality means that the band isn’t averse to some experimentation, which mixes things up nicely.
The quiet string laden build up of the opening Deep soon segues into the guitar chords of the title track, and it becomes clear that we’re dealing with songs with a languid, late night feel to them. The hypnotic presence of former gospel singer Lovetta Pippen towers over proceedings adding an undeniably classy sheen. It’s similar to Morcheeba at their best, but without the air of blandness that the latter sometimes slip into.
The quality continues with Crawling, and the sing-song chorus of Teardrops starts off endearing and soon becomes compulsive as the song progresses. The highlight though is I Have Special Powers, a lush ballad with Pippin at her considerable best.
There are weaknesses with this record however. The aforementioned experimentation often veers dangerously close to self-indulgence. For example, the eleven minute jazz improvisation of Someday My Prince Will Come could test anybody’s patience. There is also a nagging feeling of style over content – everything sounds great here, but too many of the songs are lightweight and fail to make much of an impression. The overriding impression of some tracks on here is that of beret sporting jazz buffs nodding their head earnestly whilst trying not to look too pleased with themselves.
It’s a shame that His Name Is Alive go down this route, as there are moments on this album of genuine excellence. Pippin is a singer of rare quality and lifts some of the more mundane songs out of the ordinary. The lack of substance here though means that Last Night would be more suited for quiet background music than anything more inspiring.