Like Ben Lee in love with Ton Waits, Edwyn Collins and the Squirrel Nut Zippers comes the Real Tuesday Weld. Named after the hotly tempestuous and fairly obscure actress (who also appears on the cover of Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend), musician Stephen Coates plays electronics-tinged ’20s music, which might bring to mind the ’90s work of another English act, Portishead. Fans of tinny instruments and artificial scratches and pops unite! You can finally pull out those high-waisted pants, the spats, suspenders and straw boater, for it is your night on the town with the Real Tuesday Weld.
The whole ’20s thing (and if I read another press release with `Tin Pan Alley’ in the text I think I’ll gouge out my eyes with a pennywhistle) is really just window dressing. I write that in the most flattering way possible as Coates’ music is crafty pop at its best. “Anything But Love,” for example, is like the sister/antithesis to Weezer’s “Good Life,” in which, rather than shaking his booty out on the dance floor, Coates figures he needs to “give up the fags, fast food and the women” because all he needs is love. Sound familiar? Whereas “L’amour et la Morte,” maybe because of the French title, is garnering comparisons to Serge Gainsbourg, and the comparisons aren’t too far off. But what makes the song work is its unpretentious lyrics such as:
Well I don’t believe in love
Until I’m in love
And I don’t know if it’s a miracle
Or just chemicals in us.
“At the House of the Clerkenwell Kid,” a stunning instrumental piece, recalling French films in the ’40s and ’50s, is a pleasant respite, though not needed, from the pop. Hearing it makes me envision a video in which different notable celebrities from various time periods gather in one dance hall. Johnny Depp in his outfit, complete with guitar, from Chocolat begins to strum, while Marlene Dietrich saunters in, gives a drinking Humphrey Bogart the eye, yet he seems transfixed on a dancing Josephine Baker. Like those HBO commercials where all the different shows’ characters appear together (digitally), styles and cultures collide, yet blend into one perfect bouillabaisse. Even the female fronted “Bruises,” clocking in at only a minute and a half is sheer pop ballad perfection.
Coates says that the album, which features a character who previously appeared in his album, I, Lucifer (itself a companion to a novel by Glen Duncan) thus the “Return” is explained, is a theme album following a love store from before its beginnings to its heartbreaking end. In “Turn on the Sun Again,” Coates, or the Kid, expresses his need for love by singing:
Though I like these grey English skies,
It’s warmth and light I need
So turn on the sun again
One of the highlights on the album is “I Love the Rain,” which, considering the sentiments expressed early in the album as written above, marks a symbolic return to the life of bachelorhood. Instead of seeking the sun in his relations, the singer wants a return to the dreary rain of his lonely existence. The fact that there are only three songs after it should also be a tip off that the love affair is about to end.
Okay, so maybe this isn’t Grace or Dummy, but it is an entertaining collection of pop vocal and instrumental songs with a hint of the Jazz Age. Coates’ lyrics are not pandering or patronizing, they are intelligent and thoughtful. The music of the Clerkenwell Kid is sentimental and lovely, with one foot planted firmly in our time, and one in several `agos’. He is the musical Mr. Peabody and Sherman with the Wayback Machine, teaching us not only about the musical past, but also a little about ourselves.
Ben Lee- Awake is the New Sleep
Edwyn Collins- Gorgeous George