Avalanche City: My Babylon (Guacamole Farm/digital outets)

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Left Behind
Avalanche City: My Babylon (Guacamole Farm/digital outets)

In a bare few years Silver Scroll-winning Avalanche City (aka Dave Baxter) underwent highs (chart success and critical acclaim) and lows (litigation against a former manager, which he won handsomely) and seems to have come out the other side more determined than before to embrace/be embraced by a mainstream audience which respects his pop craftsmanship and ability to construct a song which grips at first hearing but also grips over the long haul.

Baxter effortlessly works an interesting interface of male anxiety-cum- empathetic quasi-soulful r'n'b pop: About You here comes with the hook “can we make this all about you and not about me, now” and with the obligatory falsetto tasting notes so common from male singers.

Interestingly though Baxter has shifted his musical ground for this third album and here looks back at Eighties pop as a reference.

Prayed for Love – announcing the synth beats/new direction – which opens this 37 minute/nine-song collection sounds like it might be a quasi-autobiographical reflection on that well-publicised courtroom case. But it's an utterly zeitgeist take on love melodrama played out by intemperate e-mails: “Friends don't lie, I've been sitting here cursing the keyboard till 3am, late night wine, saying all I should say to you and delete every single line . . .”

That the title/chorus is so clatteringly upbeat (and Eighties) and the singer seeming to come out the other side probably speaks to a generation that unfortunately might not hear in the instantaneous rush to judgement, revenge and keyboard fury.

“I prayed for love and I prayed for fire, I prayed you'd find, then I prayed for your disaster . . .”

It is freighted with damning religion and a rage which vacillates towards the hope for redemption. And it's a banging dance-floor pop song which soars towards the finale and clever coda.

The title track is beamed in from a template laid down by Ultravox and closer to home Greg Johnson's (with sensitive guy-lyrics) but what hauls this album back is the sheer sameness of it: song after song (all with smart lyrics) conform to the cleverly produced beat-driven synth-pop ethos, either in audience-pleasing dancefloor or downbeat ballads.

This is mature music – pop-directed and doubtless going to be very popular – but every now and again you might feel deliberately manipulated, as on the by-numbers ballad Breathe: sensitive guy who talks about “the secrets of the universe” comes up with “maybe we just need the fireworks” and “maybe this is why I am crying now and maybe this is why I'm dying now . . . just breathe . . . “

Baxter has been better than the dollops of poor-poor-pitiful-me behind the synth-setting which gets this over the line.

Songs like Left Behind – downbeat verse, multi-tracked hook and then lightly pumping beats leading to the hook again – simply replicate the pattern established elsewhere. The result is much of it slips past unnoticed: In Your Head simply disappears, Just Let Go at the end might make you think you'd heard it earlier (or on a Supertramp album?).

Elsewhere has noticed a trend towards what we call “Spotify artists”, musicians who tailor songs to slip in easily onto their playlist which deliberately don't stand out but reenforce the popular single.

This Avalanche City album isn't quite like that in that Baxter has shifted his ground into a slightly different genre, but the fact these songs largely broadcast on a similar emotional and musical bandwidth means this sounds like a collection aimed squarely at radio . . . and a Spotify playlist of no surprises.

Professional, cleverly produced, interesting in places but often quite disappointing.

Much like a cautiously curated playlist.

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