It’s hard enough to live up to a name like Goldenboy, it must be even harder still when that name is given to you by the late Elliott Smith. Singer / songwriter Shon Sullivan was given the nickname by the legendary Smith while on European tour, and the name has stuck. Of course, it becomes an easier name to handle after having worked with Neil Finn, the Eels, Matt Sharp, Ed Harcourt and Johnny Marr. Hell, If I had even met that handful of rock royalty, I’d have an ego the size of Henry Rollins’ neck. But with his second album under the moniker, Underneath the Radio, joined by bandmate Brian Bos on percussion, Sullivan proves that he handles the handle with panache and grace, creating a lush pop sound and a vocal presence that sounds like he could be the offspring of Lou Reed and Nico.
Could Shon Sullivan be the bastard offspring of the Velvet Underground vocal connection? Doubtful, but that’s what Sullivan’s voice certainly resembles. Songs like the opener, “Ice Breaker Blues,” are what you’d imagine if Nico fronted a modern Kevin Shields tune. “Motorbike” is definitely Smiths and Belle & Sebastian inspired musically, still with the laid-back vocals that now recall an American Morrissey or a modern day Scott Walker. There’s something incredibly soothing about Goldenboy’s music and lyrics on “Motorbike” as gorgeous strings play behind words like, “You and I make the right kind of difference.” While Sullivan’s honeyed vocals take center stage, the delicate guitars in “End of Forever” prove that Sullivan’s no slouch on the strings either.
“I’m Still Down,” while a nod to the Beatles’ title “I’m Down,” shares more of a likeness with the Beatles-inspired greatness of Sullivan’s pal Elliott Smith. His hushed vocals in the opening of the song could even make you do a double take, thinking the song might be a lost b-side. “Blackbird at Heart” shares another pseudo title with the Fab Four, and again a likeness with Smith, particularly his “Baby Britain,” but this time also resembling a Crowded House tune, maybe thanks to the organ playing by Neil Finn and Patrick Park’s “Nothing Wrong.” And that’s mighty good company.
“Perfect One” puts everything back into that sixties’ psychedelic folk-rock vein, but with a hint of that `sad bastard music’ of Belle & Sebastian. You just know that Jack Black’s gonna hate this song. But us mopey indie kids just eat it up. The horns of “Second Day of the Year” again make one think of Belle & Sebastian, but also bands like Architecture in Helsinki, Sondre Lerche and Jens Lekman. No one can say that Goldenboy isn’t versatile. “Goodbye Erica” is pure singer / songwriter acoustic joy, a la Ed Harcourt. The album closes with the sweet and touching title track, a dramatic capper for a significant album.
Dan Bern once sang, quoting Muhammad Ali, “it ain’t braggin’ if it’s true.” Of course, he was singing a silly song called “Tiger Woods” in which he claimed to have big balls. For Shon Sullivan to use the name Goldenboy, that’s another story altogether. I don’t know that I’d be able to live up to that kind of name given from such an incredible talent as Elliott Smith. But with Underneath the Radio, Sullivan has more than earned the moniker. His songs are delicate and honest, a true shining light amongst the many dim bulbs that are `on the radio,’ rather than underneath it.