I could easily write about The La’s lead singer/guitarist/songwriter Lee Mavers’ understated perfectionism. But when you describe your band’s debut—considered by many to fulfill every requirement for being canonized a classic pop album—as being rush released by your label, any more explanation seems entirely unnecessary. Parting its way through a sea of hair metal and strumming clear acoustic chords mere moments before much of the world was strangled by a flannelled noose of grunge, The La’s self-titled debut burned bright. That the band would fade quickly from the public mind was no fault of its own timeless melodies and intoxicating ’60s Britpop underpinnings, but rather a conscious (although not likely unanimous) decision to never record a follow up.
Still it’s hard to balk at perfection, and The La’s is surely that. Mavers’ preternatural preponderance for rich hooks and graceful melody—which you could hardly find better without traveling back in time to Liverpool in the mid ’60s—is so prolific that songs hover around the two and a half minute mark. With choruses this catchy, no matter how much distortion and reverb you might be demented enough to funnel it through, the melodies would yet radiate outward in halos of sound sweet as salvation. Credit Mavers in keeping the compositions largely acoustic. Electric guitars often play a prominent role (“There She Goes,” “Son of a Gun,” “Feelin'”), but only in so far as they don’t distract from the vision at hand; realizing a pop dream unheard since their own city’s favorite sons first gigged at the Cavern Club so many decades ago.
Following the release of singles “Way Out” and “There She Goes,” a new lineup (which would tour in support of the upcoming full-length) featured guitarist Cammy (Peter James Cammell), bassist James Joyce (Dubliners jokes to yourselves, please) and Lee’s brother Neil on drums (former bassist John Power would later go on to form the successful mid-90s Britpop band Cast on which Maver’s influence is palpable). Produced by Steve Lillywhite (U2, Peter Gabriel, Morrissey), The La’s fared well critically as well as in records sold. Ultimately, the strength of Maver’s melodic intuition would deign the album its legendary status. With requisite irony, too, would it doom The La’s to bow out on a high, if not criminally brief, note. Once the band returned from touring in 1991, Mavers’ newfound total studio control stalled the recording process and any chance of a sophomore effort on account of his endless tinkering.
Unmarred by the crippling pressure of its never-to-arrive follow-up, The La’s remains fresh and nostalgic, still profoundly timeless almost twenty years after its initial release. This is Beatles timelessness. Like the first time you listened to both sides of Sgt. Pepper’s all the way through after your friend offered you a few bong tokes. If measured by nothing more than the popularity of its cover versions, “There She Goes” easily ranks as one of the best songs of the decade. Accented with angelic arpeggios, Maver’s simple sentiments long wistfully under the perpetual sunshine of a lovestruck heart. It gives even the loveless something to smile about; so undeniable are its ringing guitars and high-register musings. The jangle and stomp of “I Can’t Sleep,” a tugging bass line that fastens the feather-light synthesizer of “Liberty Ship,” the intricate acoustic guitar interplay pulsing through “Doledrum”: all contribute equally to a growing cult that pay homage to Lee Maver’s pop acumen. Especially when you consider the possible alternative—a lackluster sophomore effort with no real chance to match the melodious joy of its predecessor—perhaps Mavers had the right idea after all: just sit pretty atop a mythic pinnacle of peripheral rock stardom.