Lawrence Arabia: The Sparrow (Unspk)

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Lawrence Arabia: Lick Your Wounds
Lawrence Arabia: The Sparrow (Unspk)

Because this deftly orchestrated album of slightly worldweary pop by James Milne -- aka Lawrence Arabia -- has already picked up five star reviews and critical acclaim at home and abroad, it perhaps hardly needs Elsewhere's assistance to bring it to your attention.

But let it be noted that references to the European sounds of Scott Walker and Serge Gainsbourg, whom Milne says he was obsessed by, are few and fleeting (Bicycle Riding perhaps? The sonic setting of the vaguely McCartney-like melody of Legends certainly). Little of those artists' darkly mature emotional resonance is evident.

What is here however is something just as good and certainly more internationally appealing in a pure pop sense, a sense of Anglophile poise and a some melancholy whimsy which you might find in the Soft Boys at their most delightful and hints of that period of "baroque pop" which attended some (just some) of the work of Left Banke.

Milne knows the value of musical understatement to further highlight his lyrics, as on the repeated piano figure which holds down Early Kneecappings ("I had to kneecap my friends just to keep up" he sings in a widening metaphor) behind a North African-influenced string part and an increasingly psyched-out grandeur. Or the simple pulse of the falsetto'n'strings Lick Your Wounds which has its own quiet intensity.

Although he has an ear for a clever embellishment -- the woozy horns on the supple The Bisexual -- Milne also keeps attention on narrative and lyrics, which is often rare in this idiom. Like a sober Sebastian Flyte really applying himself  and damaged emotions to the ennui he feels. (The opening words are "young man, feeling old" on the Fifties pop melodrama of Travelling Shoes which set the tone of fearfulness about the wider world and emotional isolation.)

So no, this album hardly needs our assistance. It seduces by understatement, astute sensibilities and downright charming pop of the slighty tired kind.

Wise beyond its years you might say. Highly recommended.

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