A few years ago, it suddenly became fashionable for bands to draw influence from the West Coast sounds of ’70s America. There was The Thrills, the Irish band seemingly convinced they actually came from Big Sur. You’ll remember Orson, no matter how much you try to forget them now. And then there was The Feeling, of course – whose unabashed worship of all things cheese finally convinced us that maybe we should stop all this silliness and never speak of it again.
Magic Kids, a five-piece from Memphis, Tennessee (hence the album name), fall firmly into this MOR-influenced group. They’re so obsessed with The Beach Boys that it’s a surprise to find they’ve not all changed their name to Wilson or Love and their debut album doesn’t come with a free surfboard.
For, here’s the rub – Magic Kids aren’t interested in the Beach Boys of Pet Sounds, Smile and the weirder, more experimental era. You know, the good stuff? No, Magic Kids are seemingly hell-bent on re-creating that early ’60s vibe where all your troubles could be extinguished by jumping in a Little Deuce Coupe and driving down to the beach to impress the local girls.
Which, to be honest, has become kind of wearying by 2010. Every track here is so relentlessly upbeat and full of beans, it’s like being strapped into a dental chair and force-fed a gallon of Sunny Delight. Followed by a Krispy Kreme doughnut or three.
It’s not that Memphis is a bad album – indeed, for a debut, it’s remarkably accomplished. Strings swell and sway, the harmonies are blissful and it’s so well-produced that sometimes you think that Phil Spector’s still getting jobs from his jail cell.
Yet it’s also overtly twee and cloying – sometimes unbearably so. Superball is just a horrible, saccharine coated gloop of orchestral pop that’s impossible to listen to without feeling slightly ill. On a similar note, Good To Be only lasts less than two minutes, but to say that its cutesy delivery of “it’s so good to be with you, I think we love each other under the covers” sets the teeth on edge a bit would be an understatement.
Now and again, they get the balance right. Phone is infectiously cheery without being cheesy, while Hey Boy, the best track here by some distance, has a terrific Spector-like sound to it, and the choral female backing vocals really add some much needed depth to proceedings.
Ultimately though, this is nothing that hasn’t been done better before. There’s nothing wrong with taking ’60s bands like The Beach Boys as your inspiration as long as you do something a bit different with that influence. Too much of Memphis sounds like a pale copy of a much more impressive band, and Magic Kids really need to find their own, less cloying, voice if they’re going to produce something worthwhile.