Michael Head and The Red Elastic Band: Dear Scott — a vintage second act - Global Circulate

2022-06-04 03:30:46 By : Mr. Ian Zhang

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F Scott Fitzgerald’s claim that “there are no second acts in American lives” has had an unintended afterlife. It has become a cliché, like Samuel Beckett’s “Fail better” — a saying that has migrated from literature to T-shirts and tattoo parlours.

Fitzgerald’s maxim first turned up in a 1932 essay about New York called “My Lost City”. “I once thought that there were no second acts in American lives,” he wrote, “but there was certainly to be a second act to New York’s boom days.” Contrary to the aphorism’s common usage, Fitzgerald believed that American lives do actually have second acts, just like people from elsewhere: Liverpool singer-songwriter Michael Head, for instance.

Head’s new album Dear Scott is named after Fitzgerald, in particular his unsuccessful attempt to be a Hollywood screenwriter in the 1930s. The Liverpudlian is a cult figure in British rock, active since the early 1980s when he emerged with his first band, The Pale Fountains. Signed to a label for the immense sum of £150,000, they released their debut Pacific Street in 1984. Its sophisticated sound, indebted to Burt Bacharach and West Coast psychedelia, failed to set the charts alight. They were given a second chance, but the follow-up also flopped.

Head’s next band was Shack. Upping his psych-rock influences, especially Arthur Lee’s Love, he gained a reputation as an inspired but unfulfilled songwriter. An album went missing when the recording studio burnt down. Problems with heroin and alcohol badly sabotaged his productivity. Minor Britpop fame — aided by Noel Gallagher praising him as a “genius” — fizzled away after chart success with 1999’s HMS Fable.

Dear Scott reunites him with The Red Elastic Band, the ensemble that played on his 2017 album Adíos Señor Pussycat. It finds Head, 60, settling into a second, or perhaps third, act of an eventful but frustratingly sporadic career. The album’s producer is a younger Merseyside maverick, Bill Ryder-Jones, former member of The Coral.

“Kismet” opens the album with a characteristic flowering of jangling guitars. “I see a light,” Head sings as though heading towards the end of a tunnel. “Broken Beauty” is addressed to a damaged individual to whom Head offers lyrical solace. The music does the same with a well-worked shift from workmanlike rock ‘n’ soul to uplifting symphonic rock.

Despite taking place in a thunderstorm, “The Next Day” has a breezy, summery feel. The vocal melody is charming, although its conversational tone does not suit Head’s low, somewhat monotonous vocal register. He sounds more comfortable with a breathier mode of singing, dreamy rather than chatty.

“Fluke” is a standout track, a fantasy about waking up in Los Angeles set to the slow flare of vintage orchestral rock, reminiscent of Richard Hawley’s work. As Sheffield is to the latter, so Liverpool is to Head. “The Ten” recounts a trip back in time to a now vanished fruit and vegetable market in the city, while “American Kid” is a Bacharach-tinged tale of a pair of childhood friends who grow up in Merseyside with escapist visions of US culture.

Trying to change direction in life is a recurrent theme, expressed musically by switches in style, such as the way “Gino and Rico” shifts from a mellow jazzy reverie into full-blooded horn and string orchestrations. Second acts are written into this fine set of songs.

‘Dear Scott’ is released on Modern Sky UK


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