Friday, May 08, 2009

Musica: The sound of summer

"Beautiful Mess" by Swing Out Sister (Shaniachie Entertainment). Release Date: May 19, 2009. Advance orders: CDuniverse

Out for more than a year in certain parts of the world, including Japan, "Beautiful Mess" by Swing Out Sister finally gets a proper US release with two bonus tracks thrown in for good measure.

The release date is May 19th but I've managed to get my hands on an advance copy and it's been pretty much on repeat rotation since then.

Probably like most of those in the United States who have heard of Swing Out Sister, I was smitten at first bite when they released "It's Better To Travel" in 1987 and, it's follow-up, "Kaleidoscope World" in 1989. From album first to second album, there was a definite shift from a Stock-Aitken-Waterman'ish pop sound to jazzier explorations which suited the band fine, but by their third album, "The Living Return", they had lost me as the shift to jazzyness became, at least to me, more of a snoozefest. Nothing stood out like their earlier hits "Am I the Same Girl" or "Breakout".

So here we are twenty-two years later - and nine records into their career - and, while the sound is definitely on the retro tip, lead singer Corinne Drewery's lush vocals sound better than ever and there is a maturity and assuredness to the band that actually took me by surprise. To be sincere, I was expecting lounge jazz, but what "Beautiful Mess" turns out to be is a perfect summer album.

Take album opener and first single "Something Every Day" (unofficial YouTube video above). It certainly sets the tone for the rest of the album: Poignant, jazzy, beautiful melody and just lovely, with a nod to Burt Bacharach here, and to Dusty Springfield there. Actually, it's a preclude to stunners like "Time Tracks You Down", "Butterfly," "Out There" and "Beautiful Mess", all as memorable as the next, leaving you upon listening with a sense of joy, if also with a sense of nostalgia for summers past. Searching for comparisons, my head immediately recalled St. Etienne's recent explorations of the retro-1960's London pop-sound in albums such as "Good Humor" and "Tales from Turnpike House."

The album is not perfect. I could do without "Secret Love (You're Invisible)" - which incorporates some mellow hip-hop beats and some dramatic vocal interludes that didn't do it for me - as well as the bonus remixes. There are also a bonus "studio" take on "Something Every Day" in which Swing Out Sister winks at fans by incorporating some chord changes from "Twilight World", and a low-key version of "Breakout", probably included to entice old fans.

What's truly of note, though, is their new material. A great rediscovery, indeed.

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