Album Reviews

Lawrence Arabia – Chant Darling

(Bella Union) UK release date: 4 January 2010

Chant Darling is the second album from New Zealand’s Lawrence Arabia, or James Milne to his friends. Taking its cues from The Beatles, The Beach Boys and more contemporary acts such as Grandaddy and The Sleepy Jackson, he’s made a charming collection of perfect harmonies, witty observations and undeniable melodies. All this is performed by an intelligent singer whose main hobby outside of music is spreading the teachings of his own political party.

Thankfully, Milne doesn’t attempt to shoehorn his political manifesto – essentially, he preferred New Zealand in the 1950s – into the songs, but each carries the weight of the musical past heavy on its shoulders. Opener Look Like A Fool sounds like John Lennon, all pretty piano lines and a vocal that borders the line between angry and desolate.

It also features some beautiful harmonies, a chorus of Milne’s bruised vocals swirling around a gently chugging melody. The closing Dream Teacher is essentially a Beach Boys cover version in all but name. This cribbing is understandable, but detracts slightly from Milne’s songs, ultimately leading the listener to seek out the originals.

Luckily there’s enough quality elsewhere to keep the listener engaged, especially on the wonderful Apple Pie Bed, which employs a great chorus of almost childish simplicity. There’s also the fantastic, country-tinged epic, I’ve Smoked Too Much, which is the kind of classic rock song that Bright Eyes have been trying to make for years. It’s also a good example of Milne’s lyrical skills as he unfurls a brilliantly skewed take on self-loathing: “There’s a sudden lack of excitement in my day/ All my exhibitionist neighbours moved away.”

Elsewhere, The Undesirables is a sweet tale about protecting the ones you love, whilst The Crew of the Commodore takes in elements of psychedelia and electronica in its near six minutes. The only real misstep is Eye A, which aims for jaunty and fun, but ends up sounding irritating and mildly nauseating.

Chant Darling is an album that won’t leave a massive impression on first listen, but there’s a definite charm that keeps you coming back for more. There’s much to enjoy here, and though the constant referencing can be slightly distracting at times, it’s good enough as it is to warrant wider success. That political career can wait, surely?

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Lawrence Arabia – Chant Darling