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Starsailor: Love is Here

Capitol, 2002

Rating: 2.8



Posted: January 8, 2002

By The Gentleman

For as long as there's been what we must, for lack of a better term, charitably call rock journalism, each band to come out of Britain has been held up to whichever group was the standard-bearer at the time. (Oasis, you might recall, was thought to be the second coming of the Stone Roses.) And so it goes today.

Solely by virtue, it would appear, of hailing from the U.K., Starsailor is the latest band to be unimaginatively -- and inevitably -- tagged these days as "Radiohead lite." This bit of unconscionable music-critic chicanery would be an insult to the intelligence if it weren't so laughably flimsy. Just which Radiohead offering, exactly, are all these young Brit bands -- Doves, say, or Travis -- supposed to recall? "High and Dry?" "Creep?" Perhaps "Let Down," or something from Kid A, hmm? Yes, that's what I thought.

In the case of Starsailor, there is at least one actual resemblance -- singer Tim Walsh's warbling recalls nothing so much as the bastard offspring of Thom Yorke and Tim Booth, late of the heinous British export James. If that sounds appealing to you, dear reader, well, you're a more tolerant person than I, in which case you'd be well-advised to stop reading right here.

Actually, there's a much better comparison to be made, if what passes for the music-writing establishment could be bothered to dig a bit deeper. Starsailor takes its name from a musty 1970 album by late folkie Tim Buckley, which tells you all you really need to know, really. Because Love is Here apes no artist as much as Buckley's son, the also-late Jeff Buckley, who aspired to ascend to the heights of moody rock-god Valhalla before his untimely death, and damn near made it. Buckley fils, you'll recall, combined Jaggerian swagger with a spectral wail equal parts Robert Plant and Kate Bush. Walsh aims for similar over-emoting glory, huffing every last ounce of lung power into choruses that could best be described as "soaring."

Trouble is, as often as not those choruses don't stand up to scrutiny: Suffice it to say that Walsh's lyrics are the kind you'd generally read through splayed fingers, much as one views a car crash, or the key moments in a slasher flick. (Sample lyric, from the title track: "If you could see the lover in me/ and we could put our hands together, / you could see how good it could be/ we'll sing these stupid songs forever." See what I mean, then?) In point of fact, Walsh proves himself to be perhaps the squishiest songwriter since Brandon Boyd of Incubus.

Which is too bad, really, because otherwise the bill of fare on Love is Here has enough substance to make it worth recommending, in a Coldplay kind of way. If the band's modest arrangements -- mostly strummed acoustic guitars and delicately-plinked piano -- are a bit too subtle to stand out, Walsh's sense of melody is quite keen, most notably on "Alcoholic," "Lullaby" and "Good Souls."

Still, there's nothing for it but to stamp Love is Here as a solid, if less than enchanting, debut. However, a numerical grade must be docked for the perfunctory bonus track, which repays any listener patient enough to wait through nearly ten minutes of silence with a few seconds of annoying vocal masturbation, followed by equally annoying self-congratulatory laughter. Those not inclined to be forgiving of such wearisome high jinks should give this a pass, and instead seek out the real standard against which all upcoming British bands should be judged -- the quite splendid Beta Band.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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