Album Reviews

The Milk And Honey Band – The Secret Life Of

(ape house) UK release date: 28 June 2004

Milk and Honey? What a vile combination. Calcium goodness mixed with sweaty bee sweetness, curdling into indigestion and toothache. The Milk & Honey Band serve up this confection of songs, from their last three albums, that are quietly epic, gently grandiose and abundantly rich, full of carefully crafted guitar with a lush orchestration and an otherworldliness that suggests this band has an agenda all of its own.

Straddling the concerns of the bed-sit poet, the forever lovelorn, the social misfit and the terminal daydreamer; they are a band truly out of time. Little wonder then that they should be championed by fellow pastoral outsider Andy Partridge from XTC and are signed to his Ape label.

The Brighton trio have been quietly doing their acoustic thing since 1997, and are led by ex-Levitation keyboard /guitar player Bob White, along with two fellow cohorts lost forever in a twilight beer-hall world of times gone by, with gentle sentiments and lulling acoustic charms. The Milk and Honey Band are host to forlorn melodies, chiming guitars, and all that English whimsy pop could offer and left to curdle on the shelf .

Resolutely upbeat lyrics, delivered in a voice tinged with regret, of sunny days, suitably distant girls, and starry-eyed vague dreamers, call to mind Crowded House, the wobbly vibrato of David Gray, Elliot Smith, or Ron Sexsmith in their close-harmony-laden syrupy nostalgia. This is not all limp-wristed acoustic feyness though, they do have some musical backbone, but it seems set in a resolutely stooped and apologetic stance when attempting to rock out. Once they have set up camp the formula is repeated ad nauseum. An enthusiastically strummed acoustic guitar figure circles away, while Bob keens and moans (albeit harmonically) an electric guitar comes in with a little bit of phase to make it a bit ‘far out’ while the drumming is solid, if uninspired.

Four Leaf Clover does have a certain charm, in its village-green brass-band wooziness, Boy From The Moon possesses an experimental shuffling groove, briefly daft lyrics (‘little jimmy’s grown up/ looking like a donut’) and Road builds and falls through some fine guitar and keyboard wig-out, at times recalling Doves, to lift this above the rest.

Silver Horse does rock out in a droning fashion, with guitars chiming around lush orchestrations and dense banks of phased keyboards. Several tracks practically disappear with the sleightness of touch, Sold My Star and Satellite are vague wisps of mildewy codswallop that offer nothing in the way of variety and become practically indistinguishable from the rest of the syrupy badness.

The Secret Life of the Milk and Honey Band is not outright offensive, just too much sustained downbeat sweetness which produces the urge to give them a hearty slap to wake them from their nostalgic reverie. Like eating trifle, it’s good once but not for ever. These are songs for rainy days waiting for the sun. The only problem is that once the sun is shining, milk and honey are furthest from your mind.

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