Album Reviews

Marjorie Fair – Selp Help Seranade

(emi) UK release date: 31 May 2004

There was a classic self-help book from the Sixties called I’m OK, You’re OKwhich was distributed by well-meaning therapists as a general panacea for allmanner of ills ("Head fallen off? Read this!" etc). Such was the whacked-outcounter culture approach to self-help.

Majorie Fair serve up the modern-day audio equivalent, in that they hark backto those simple sixties pastel-hued times, when trousers were wider, hearts wereintact and California was where it was at. Bung some flowers in yer hair, dropthis platter on your hi-fi and wallow in this luxurious, if rather pleasantlypointless, album of mild melancholia.

The AOR revival rolls on unabated (Scissor Sisters covering Elton John, Phoenix covering ‘easy disco’) with this soft-rock, harmony-laden offering from Los Angeles’ Marjorie Fair. Fronted by Evan Slamka, Marjorie Fair seem to be part of the misty-eyed crowd inspired by Californian melodies in awe of times gone past. This, their debut album, is a sleepy-eyed, snail-paced strum-along through the lows, the middlings and the lows again of love, loss and love lost. Excited?

Inspired by the almost perfunctory holy triumvirate of Neil Young, John Lennon, and Brian Wilson, Evan’s songs seem more in love with the oak-polished ‘craft’ of songwriting than to bother with the gritty bits that make it interesting. Unlike fellow contemporary singer-songwriters Ed Harcourt and Damien Rice who seem to tease strands of personality from well-worn routes, Marjorie Fair seem content to dither in the shadows, never threatening to go stratospheric, as if it’s all too much bother when one can wallow in mood, mood, glorious mood, even if it is the same one throughout.

The rare occasions the pace surfaces from the plodding navel-gazing for a breath of air, as on Waves and Stand In The World, it comes as some relief, but it doesn’t last very long or provide any added inspiration. Lyrically, Halfway House aspires for some kind of dark narrative under the deceptive sugary exterior (the trump card that Lambchop play so deftly). Slamka and co sigh their way through these languid, heat-hazes of melancholy deftly enough, but without any sense of angst, ire or purpose, just a pleasant shruglette of world-weary.

Melancholy, by its very definition is, “prolonged sadness”, which is justifiable if there’s an interesting backbone to it, but if it’s a fashionable ‘mono-mood’ pose for Americans trying to be ‘deep’, ‘clever’ and wistful, as it appears to be here, then it is a much poorer experience. As Slamka admits, “It’s surprising that people are enjoying the music we’re making”.

The overall effect is one of cloying, claustrophobic one-paced idolatry that needs a bit of fresh air and a good night out. It has to be said that the album was recorded back in spring 2002, and has only now been deemed worthy of release. This may not aid the sense of an album born “out of time”.

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Marjorie Fair – Selp Help Seranade