Thursday, December 1, 2011

Funny Looking Angels From Smith and Burrows: A Review Of The Debut Album

Yeah, it's that guy from Razorlight and that guy from Editors but Funny Looking Angels from Smith and Burrows is another thing entirely. Sounding nothing like their home-team bands, Tom Smith and Andy Burrows have crafted one of 2011's warmest records with a sound that echoes the best radio hits of the 1970s.

Throw in some covers of Yazoo and Longpigs, and you've got another few reasons to give this a listen.

"In The Bleak Midwinter" starts things off on a somber note but after that introductory piece, Tom Smith's "When The Thames Froze" begins the tunes with a warm and inviting song that invokes the best work of Seventies hit-makers like Elton John and Harry Nilsson. Smith's deep voice recalls Stuart A. Staples of Tindersticks. But where that band can be a bit morose even during their best moments, Smith's ballad has a hopeful vibe that gains momentum as the song progresses.

"As The Snowflakes Fall" is lead by Andy Burrows' near-falsetto and this ballad owes a huge debt to the first Badly Drawn Album album. With Tom Smith's backing vocals, Smith and Burrows achieve a nice balance here with the chords adding a touch of hope to what starts as a near forlorn ballad.

That first single still captivates! "Funny Looking Angels" sounds remarkably like The Feeling and, like those guys, Smith and Burrows strike a nice balance between catchy pop and thoughtful rock. The influences are obvious here but the song is such a well-crafted tune that it's hard to not like the cut. Unlike some bits on Funny Looking Angels, the title song will work well after the winter snow has melted and this coming Christmas has become just a distant memory.

A cover of "Wonderful Life" from Black -- remember him? -- owes more to 1990s-era Depeche Mode than to the 1980s alt-rock crooner. Where the original sounded a bit like both George Michael and Erasure -- though more mellow than either -- this cut has a touch of menace. The legacy of both the Tindersticks and recent Nick Cave hangs heavy over the song and it's oddly somber for a Christmas album.

But that heaviness is what I like about this version. What was essentially a pop hit in 1987 -- though it was a college rock hit here in the States -- is now a more serious thing, the words taking on a new layer of meaning.

A cover of the Yazoo classic "Only You" tones down the chirpiness of the 1982 cut in favor of a slower, more orchestrated, take on the tune that still manages to recall original singer Alison Moyet.

I'm glad someone else still has some love for the Longpigs! "On And On" benefited from the Britpop boom when it was first released as even album rock stations in the US were playing it in moderate rotation. Andy Burrows takes lead vocal duties here and the song is now even more radio-friendly. It's an ace tune and this version is just great, expanding the song beyond its rock band origins into something larger and more spacious.

"Rosslyn" is a piano-based instrumental that segues into "This Ain't New Jersey" and if the song sounds a bit like Marc Cohn's "Walking In Memphis" with a Christmas vibe, so be it. There are also deliberate echoes of Bruce Springsteen here -- the title and the intro that recalls the Boss' take on "Santa Claus is Comin' To Town" -- but this song is less a sly wink at a Christmas chestnut and more of an attempt to write a new classic holiday tune.

For anyone like me who sort of gets weary this time of year, this could be the wry, cynical cut to get you back in the mood. It's like the perfect Christmas song for people who hate Christmas songs.

Things come to a more traditional close with a take on "The Christmas Song" with guest vocals from Agnes Obel.

Falling somewhere between the first album from Badly Drawn Boy and the second album from The Feeling, Funny Looking Angels from Smith and Burrows is a warm and emotional near-classic that provides a taste of future greatness from Tom Smith and Andy Burrows.

Memo to Mssrs. Smith and Burrows: More music please once the holidays are over!

For now, follow the duo on their official website:

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