Lucky Soul - A Coming of Age
Another gem. Lucky Soul’s follow-up to their 2007 debut takes up where that artful, elegant record left off and offers faint hope that one day all music will be made this way. Those who were looking the other way need slapping but, in a nutshell, the London six piece do soul pop with a deliciously outré slant and they do it so well you wouldn’t believe. ‘The Great Unwanted’ was such a fiery calling card not least because, after a clutch of lovely 7” releases that gave every indication of a smartly styled pop sensibility, no-one expected an album of real might to appear. Where it seemed that Lucky Soul were merely charming and sweet, they blitzed doubts with a long player that shone.
A Coming of Age strays not so far from the footsteps of its predecessor. Huh. Like that’s a problem. We’re talking refining, not dismantling of an entire oeuvre, people. Still present are the soaring strings (often driving, rather than merely supporting, the melodies), the gymnastic interplay between band members, Ali Howard’s sweet rasp of a voice and, most importantly, head honcho Andrew Laidlaw’s peerless way with a song. One of these days Lucky Soul’s ‘people’ will send a tape to, ooh, Robbie, Kylie, a proper pop star who does their best work when they have a foil who can offer good and proper direction. When that happens and he goes living on Guy Chalmers Boulevard, we’ll lose him to the sun and the swimming pools. Until then, offer thanks.
The songs only really differ this time in that they appear to be wearing a few more microns of gloss; the production feels that much more slick. Not sickly so, just a tad smoother. Fear not – it fits. Just as the title track of their blistering debut stood out as that record’s foundation and centrepiece, same again this time around. ‘A Coming of Age’, the song, is deft and dextrous with its appropriation of John Barry-esque swirl and its Bond theme mannerisms are replete with dizzying tempo changes and a chorus to die for and with. (Blasted MP3s - like a knob I play the album in entirely the wrong order on first listening and only realise that ‘ACOA’ appears halfway through. It would have made a triumphant opener. Ah well.) ‘Ain’t Nothing Like a Shame (To Bring It All Back Home)’ gets flowers for title alone but its scattergun funk puts them in water.
Laidlaw’s doomed romanticism, so apparent on ‘The Great Unwanted’ and offering every indication that the guy would write you an entire album of tear-jerkers if you refused him a second date, is present and indisputably correct. On the frothy ‘Our Heart’ – oh, Andrew, come on ! – Howard coos “Let your actions drive you/Cos your love is the dream I aspire to …” There’s a middle eight where violins set the sky ablaze that’s worth entry alone. ‘Could Be I Don’t Belong Anywhere’ is exactly as you’d imagine (imagine Dusty if she’d stayed in Memphis.) It’s for the disaffected and dislocated – tell me you’ve never lived there. The disquieting coda, all minor chord descent and wobbling riffola, is as tasty as it is unexpected. ‘Love3’ is, at first glance, meringue-light, but it’s sweetened with a pinch of Jacksons that no-one could deny – ‘The Love You Save’, maybe? Whatever, no judge would convict – justifiable larceny, no argument.
And there’s so much more. 14 tracks always feels a tad top heavy but ‘A Coming of Age’ carries the weight. ‘Southern Melancholy’ comes on like ‘Baby I’m Broke’ but puts me in mind of Stockard Channing’s ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’. Never a bad thing. ‘Upon Hill Fields’ flashes a wisp of country, something that suits Lucky Soul very well indeed, it has to be said, and delivers genre expectations with the corking “Sorrow wears me like a badge …” (Not exactly “She done and left me for my best friend and he wasn’t even my friend”, but what is ?) ‘Warm Water’, just Ali, a hint of piano and gossamer strings, is the most stirring ode to love among the ruins. When she sings “Clouds are drifting like a bad conversation … how can you turn to me and say it’s over?” even a heart of glass would melt. Pesky love, as tragic as it is glorious.
Don’t ignore them this time, is all. Lucky Soul, glorying in the best and brightest that pop music has to offer, are carving diamonds. If there is more to life than skinny jeans and a snarl then a capable cohort of good men in sharp suits fronted by the very blondest pixie chanteuse, who marries glamour with guile, is surely it. When pop is at its very, very best it shows us something we maybe hadn’t seen before, offers us a view of what might be if only we would dare to hop on board. When Del Shannon had the bare-faced ingenuity to offer up ‘Runaway’, when Smokey pulled ‘Tears of a Clown’ from Christ knows where, when The Supremes dazzled with ‘The Happening’, we were confronted with aspiration, ambition, a refusal to be merely ordinary. When Andrew Laidlaw toils over songs such as these, when Lucky Soul deliver an album that bucks beautifully the prevailing trends, they are, whether they know it or not, living the role their debut album’s title gave them. These outsiders, like Brando before them, are rebels too. "What have you got?" All of this. All of this and more.