It’s no stretch to say that hype is a fickle mistress. There’s a maxim that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but try telling that to Kevin Smith upon casting both his buddy Ben Affleck and Ben’s then paramour, J-Lo, in the film Jersey Girl. The aftermath of Gigli, released some eight months previous, essentially destroyed this film, though Jersey Girl was not very good even without the association. Just as with movies, hype can either make or break a band. Unfortunately, today’s hyper-aware and popularity-resistant music critics see to be inured to the hype machine to the point of automatic bias in the other direction. What they tend to forget is, hype, other than that given due to tabloid fodder, is usually there for a reason. Creation Records founder Alan McGee unleashed the music of the Jesus & Mary Chain, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fanclub and Oasis unto the world. So, when he discovers new music, people take notice. McGee’s most recent find is Glasvegas, proving first that he’s still got the Svengali touch, and that hype is sometimes deserved.
First glances at Glasvegas are revealing. Their portmanteau moniker, built of two cities, leads one to assumptions about the band’s sound. One city is a magical place, where one can either make their fortune or lose it all, a city full of music, entertainment and beautiful people. And the other city is Las Vegas. Glasvegas has an ex-footballer for a frontman. They’ve got the mystique of Alan McGee behind them. The album’s part-Starry Night, part-The Eraser, woodcut album cover and inner art is immediately arresting and sublime. The band’s female drummer calls to mind images of Moe Tucker, while the rest of the band’s rockabilly image recalls an even earlier era. And yet, despite the entire sensory overload that comes with just a cursory look at Glasvegas, the band is not quite what you’d expect, and to an extent, somewhat refreshingly unassuming.
There’s no way for most reviews of Glasvegas’ self-titled debut to avoid comparison to Alan McGee’s first discovery, the Jesus & Mary Chain. The band has the same mixture of wall of noise guitars, Phil Spector grandeur and core pop aesthetics. All of these factors are evident from the very beginning of the record, with opening track, “Flowers & Football Tops,” featuring a Ronettes-style chorus, crushing guitars and an incredibly charming Scots brogue, of the kind found spelled in Irvine Welsh novels, like `with-oot’ and `fitbow.’ Singer James Allan exposes at the end of the track the true magic of Glasvegas, the image of the tough guy with the sensitive heart, a theme that runs roughshod throughout the album, as he sings the classic “You Are My Sunshine” over a fuzzed-out crescendo.
The best moments on the album are cemented in the singles. “Go Square Go,” an early release, dating all the way back to 2006, is a rallying cry of an anthem, knee-deep in a father’s advice to stand up to attacking bullies. Aside from the blood-pumping chants of “Here we, here we, here we fucking go,” often intoned by Glasvegas fans urging the band’s arrival, the song also features one of a handful of not-so-subtle nods to McGee with the words, “Biff Bang Pow,” one of his early bands. “It’s My Own Cheating Heart that Makes Me Cry” is another standout, achingly melodramatic and yet fantastically enjoyable. Songs such as “Cheating Heart” are what most likely prompted unlikely praise from the usually hard to please Morrissey. (Another McGee nod is in “Cheating Heart” as Allan name-checks Oasis’ sophomore album). If the band is taking suggestions for their next charting single, I’d offer “S.A.D. Light,” a track I’m guessing is in acronym form to reflect a common British occurrence, seasonal affective disorder, and the lights a sufferer acquires to combat it. It has everything the previous singles have, pathos along with healthy doses of melody and grandiose, building guitar washes. Thankfully, U.S. listeners get another treat with their release, the inclusion of b-side cover, “Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime.” Originally done by the Korgis, most will know it from its inclusion in the film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as covered by Beck. Glasvegas’ version is converted so much to their own style that it seems less a cover and more of an interpretation, yet still genius.
Call me a romantic, or possibly something worse, say a gelatin-hearted sap. Call me a sucker for everything Scottish, especially the accents and the music, making the combination of the two irresistible. But, whatever you call me, I’m okay with it. Detractors may dismiss the band’s lyrics as childishly sentimental, but that is ultimately its sheer and utter charm. I am reminded of Nelson, the seminal Simpsons bully, when he is either trying to be a respectable boyfriend for Lisa, or when he is unashamedly emotional over Andy Williams. It is, at first, disarming, yet one can’t help but be overtaken and swept up in the overwhelmingly disparate mixture. Most American critics are seemingly getting this one wrong. There are a few exceptions, including a shockingly glowing review from one Robert Christgau, but for the most part, Yankees haven’t been as forgiving as our Brit counterparts. Luckily, at least one of our esteemed writers saw fit to include the debut, which arrived late on or shores, as one of the best albums of last year. Hopefully, as it debuted in America in January, it can qualify for this year’s year-end festivities. As for the other critics, even the New York Times Book Review panned Catch-22 and Catcher in the Rye. Everybody’s got to learn sometime.