Jingles 4 by Elliot Brown is a collection of catchy melodies, clever lyrics and a compelling singer. The album is split into several different styles; when the songs are based more on folk or ‘60s British-pop, they work the most effectively.
“Star” is a Kinks-like story-song with groups of harmonies chiming in not only in support of the lead vocal but also to answer. The ironic emotional elements of the lyric fall nicely into Ray Davies territory, as do the vocal inflections. It’s catchy and smart. “Want Her Back Again” is a Neil Diamond-like pop song, lyrically, vocally, as well as the accompaniment. Brown pulls it off with conviction complete with large whole note “oohhs” and “ahhs.” “Never Gonna Be With You Again” has some fantastic Davies-brothers-like harmonies throughout. The melody is very catchy, the layered introduction of keyboards smart and the build into the refrain is well earned.
“Nile” opens with quasi-Indian harmonies and a tabla like pattern being tapped out before moving into more of ‘60s British pop song. The trippy journey that is taken lyrically is expertly reflected in the music, complete with layers of vocals that stack, echo and add doo-wop like melodies. Both sections move back and forth between each other with occasional venn diagram-like overlay and make for a great fusion of styles and ideas.
“Hired Labour” is a 12-bar blues based around electric piano and a character voice that reflects the lyric of blue-collar work throughout history. It’s a clever lyric and the simplicity of the accompaniment really allows those lyrics to stand out and shine as well as the lower register of Brown’s voice. “High And On The Valium” continues the idea of vocal inflections and harmonies to reflect a drug trip. It’s effective and the calypso-style via Harry Nilsson is chirpy and adds some humor to the sincerity. “What Did I Say Wrong?” closes the album with a catchy acoustic-guitar based ballad that could’ve found its way into the Joan Baez songbook from a Greenwich Village café in the 1960s. By adding an organ, drum machine and delayed vocals the song moves a bit more into pop territory, but keeps its folk influence throughout and is quite effective.
Not all of the ideas work as effectively, particularly when moving more towards a dance-club type of style. “Lulu” opens the album with a swirl of drum machines, a Beck-like guitar-line, a historical potpourri of synthesizer tones and some interesting melodic ideas. The b-section has a very Latin-inspired arc to the melody, which makes for a nice contrast to the more pop elements of the verse. There are times that the synthesizers tend to feel stronger than Brown’s voice and it would be nice to maybe have the instruments shape themselves a bit more around the strength of his voice rather than overpower it.
“B Plan” keeps the Davies-esque vocal inflections and interesting lyric, but the music that accompanies it feels a bit incongruous to the melody. While the melody has some interesting stretches to pre-rock jazz (almost in a Nellie McKay way), the dance-club synths and burbling drum machines feel forced. “Rest Home” opens with synth strings before moving into a more acoustic-guitar based Crowded House type of ballad. Adding layers of piano chords and the return of the strings is a nice touch, but melodically it stays exactly the same for the entire song, which makes it hard to pick up steam. The lack of a chorus or b-section to what’s going on combined with a few phased timings for the drum machine/guitar interplay makes for a missed opportunity for what is a promising start.
Overall, Brown’s lyrics and melodies are very strong, and they tend to be most effective when he lets the rest of the music reflect what he’s putting out there. He reflects some great influences not as a copy but as a disciple of pop music.
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