Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Idle Race - s/t

 Idle Race (1969) ***1/2
Influences: the Beatles, Hans Christian Anderson.  This young Jeff Lynne's '60s cult band's LP is less idiosyncratic, more straightforward and mature than the debut.  There's a considerable less emphasis on carnival whimsey and more on simply delivering finely crafted, tuneful pop songs.  Once again, the production and band performances are too thin and weak to truly compete with their Brummie compadres the Move; and the sweet little songs are too slight to rank this in any other than the AAA leagues (sorry, Brits - that's a baseball metaphor).  Quibbling aside, it's once again a highly enjoyable delight that there's no excuse for not enjoying if you fancy the Beatles gone bubblegum or the Bee Gees gone psychedelic.  Guitarist Dave Pritchard chips in a total of two songs, and while neither are exceptional, they're a fine change of pace from an album otherwise entirely dominated by Lynne compositions.  Of those, there are precisely two bummers, both for the same reason:  they're cutesy novelty bubblegum crap.  I can't decide which is less tolerable, the one about the ventriloquist's puppet coming to life a la Pinocchio, or the saga of Big Chief Woolly Bosher.  I can't stand children's music in either practice or principle, so your mileage may vary if unlike me, you can tolerate kiddy tunes.  Otherwise, Lynne's melodicism advances somewhat, more assured than on the debut, with band laying back a bit in contrast to the first album's hyperactivity.  The string of mid-tempo, lushly melodic tunes that dominate most of the record once again work fine as proto-ELO, with "The Girl at the Window," standing out brightly and clearly - it's one of Lynne's finest ever tunes, and my pick for obvious highlight of the album.  The closing number stands out as well, since it's the sole psychedelic rocker on the set - "Hurry Up John," would be worthy of Nuggets if there weren't a pair of Idle Race singles on that compilation already.  One nagging question:  why is Lynne so specific about the time he's "Going Home"?  If there's any symbolic significance to July 13, it's never adequately explained.

After this, Lynne was drafted from the minor leagues to the majors by joining the Move.  The Idle Race released one more album in the early '70s under the leadership of Dave Pritchard.  Given Pritchard's track record of competent but unexceptional songwriting, I have no particularly high hopes for that record.  But if I can find a copy to stream or download, I'll give it a spin and might review it someday.  (You didn't think I'd actually spend time and money going out and buying it, did you?  What do you think this is, 1999?)

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