Album Reviews

The Upper Room – Other People’s Problems

(Columbia) UK release date: 29 May 2006

Finding some means of musical expression these days can prove to be a will-o-the-wisp experience. 1979 happened in 1979, though just now far too many whippersnapper guitar bands – and some supposedly trendy labels – seem to believe we must do it all again. Similary, the mid-80s electropop sound has lately been recycled beyond pastiche. Where next does a band go when setting out to create their very own new sound?

If you are London’s The Upper Room, you give a cursory glance to your musical history books and deduce that nobody has really got to grips with 1980s pop MOR since… well, the 1980s. Could it be that here lies a mine of gems merely awaiting exploitation? If their second single Black And White – Lancaster’s finest John Waite‘s Missing You with blander lyrics – suggests they’ve settled on this course and are plodding along at 55mph towards their goal. So far, so recycled. What chance a Peter Cetera cover for a B-side?

The faux emotion of the quiet verse/anthemic chorus/quiet verse structure and plodding, humourless lyrics offer little recompense for a musical atmosphere devoid of creativity or individuality. This is music for people who think Heart FM’s programming defines music today, who can’t wait for the next Embrace album and who don’t eat Asian food because “it’s a bit too spicey, know what I mean?”. This is music for people who don’t know why some musical output is worthwhile and some… isn’t.

The band is led by singer-songwriter Alex Miller, whose voice isn’t half bad. There’s a hint of accent about it, a sop to the “keep it real” brigade. But he needs to understand that the titles of songs create expectation. One track is called Kill Kill Kill. It plods, plods, plods. Portrait, a title last used for a song by Enya, sounds like an attempt to sound like The Cure that doesn’t come close to working.

Leave Me Alone is the very definition of bedwetting, quoting a girl with a lot of sense who said: “Please stop calling me at home, Please stop calling me at home, Though I think you’re lovely, baby, Won’t you please leave me alone.” So goes the chorus refrain before (and after) a guitar wank-out middle-eight. A scan through the lyrics, included in the overtly glossy album sleeve, reveals just about every word to be formed of one or (sometimes) two syllables. One can’t even excuse them with the tags “literate” or “sensitive”. Mr Miller is no lyricist.

Ultimately the killer here is this. Throughout the album, of 12 songs, there is no variation, no change in tempo, no suggestion of derring-do, nothing to latch on to and hoist up as a special talent. But, astonishingly, they have a major label deal. Their music purportedly makes one magazine “weak at the knees”. One assumes such a reaction is natural when throwing one’s self to the floor and begging any and all gods for mercy from this album’s claustrophobic nothingness. Here is stark evidence that, just because a band was formed in London-by-sea (aka Brighton), it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s any good.

But on it plods. “She threw a dart right through my shirt to my heart,” Miller sings as a verse opening on Black And White. If Bonfire Of The Vanities were being soundtracked today, this song would surely make the cut. Unfortunately, he lived to warble more nondescript, bloated, tedious rubbish. Better make it a silver bullet next time, love, and check for a pulse afterwards just in case.

There is no conceivable reason to buy this record. There is every reason not to. Next.

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The Upper Room – Other People’s Problems