Although deemed up-and-coming favorites among U.K. fans after teaming up with Oasis for a tour to promote their 2002 debut Holes in the Walls, The Electric Soft Parade has hardly garnered any recognition in their recent attempts to market their melancholic pop across the pond. After the release of The Human Body EP last year toe tested American response, their latest full-length No Need To Be Downhearted is brothers Alex and Tom White’s high dive to gauge success in the States. Still, when wading through the band’s foot-tapping riff rock, you get the eerie feeling that you’ve heard these songs before somewhere. Tracks like “Misunderstanding” and the opening minutes of “Cold World” ring familiar of a Scrubs cue-the-credits alt-pop closer that makes for a fluffy background to Dr. Dorian’s hackneyed “if we can’t be lovers, let’s all be buds” moments.
That’s not to say that any of Downhearted‘s 12 tracks are particularly bad (in as much as they are immediately accessible and inoffensive). In particular, the woeful acoustic balladry of “Shore Song,” which slowly fades with a chorus of sleepy bells, and standout single “If That’s The Case, Then I Don’t Know,” are exceptional examples of ESP’s polished pop sensibilities. Still, the album as a whole offers little to its audience that has not been heard before. Oddly reminiscent of such disparate influences as lesser Elliott Smith – think more Figure 8 than XO – or the latter missteps of Badly Drawn Boy, coupled with pre-teen dears Semisonic (remember their ’98 smash radio hit “Closing Time”?), Downhearted is sadly predictable.
The duo tries to balance out their affected songwriting with atmospheric tangents tacked onto the tail ends of songs – such as a 20-second swaggering barbershop-esque hidden track – but as intriguing as they might be, they ultimately come off as mere filler. For as much care as was taken to articulate every hook and sing-along chorus, one suspects they might have done better if they had taken those spare bits and flowed them somehow into the meat of the song to give them more direction, and (why not?) a little more substance.
The group tries its hand at artiness and off-kilter songwriting with the two-part title tracks that serve as bookends to the album. Rather than ending the record with the upbeat charmer appropriately titled “Appropriate Ending” — complete with a sweet-licks guitar solo and catchy chorus about failed relationships — Downhearted ends with a much more somber and subdued counterpoint to the album’s dominantly lighthearted tone, as if trying to offer a wry deconstruction of their own radio-friendly sound. But it doesn’t entirely work, because as hard as they might try, Electric Soft Parade fall too much in line with the sophomoric output of Oasis’ past ten years or so. Maybe they’ll attract those fans, who, a decade ago, all owned timeworn copies of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory (and eventually replaced their scratched discs with super audio editions). But in the end, who of us ever goes to sleep at night anymore humming “Champagne Supernova”?
Badly Drawn Boy – Born in the UK
Elbow – Asleep in the Back
The Boo Radleys – C’mon Kids