[19 November 2004]
As Matinee Records-affiliated artists go, the Would-Be-Goods are as synonymous an example as you can get for the label’s sound. Twee guitar pop with an affinity for lilting melodies and precious lyricism, it’s a sound that owes as much to Aztec Camera and the Smiths as it does to more contemporary acts like Belle and Sebastian. In other words, it’s a fairly static sound, one that does away with the developments of musical taste to maintain a breezy, Continental pop aesthetic.
That’s not to say it’s in any way a bad sound, or that the bands who employ it should be dismissed. Pop purists continually maintain that it’s the simplest structures that make a song work, every deviation mere embellishment on the true formula, and the Would-Be-Goods are among Matinee’s best. When it comes down to it, working within such a limited framework means that you have to craft solid compositions in order to stand out, and the Would-Be-Goods are consistent in this regard, even if they’ll never be accused of much innovation.
Much of the Would-Be-Goods’ charm rests in the voice of lead vocalist Jessica Griffin. Possessing a husky alto that recalls Kirsty MacColl in its timbre, she’s got an assured sultriness that comes across as a sort of cool, rather than sexiness. The remainder of the band’s duties are picked up by Peter Momtchiloff’s guitars, Deborah Green’s drums and high backing vocals, and Lupe Nunez-Fernandez’s bass. Yet it is Griffin’s vocals that anchor any kind of focal point, and her sometimes-clever songwriting that makes this band worth noticing. Together with Momtchiloff, the pair occassionally hit on a real winner of observational insight, perhaps best encapsulated in the group’s prior song “Emmanuelle Beart” (from the EP of the same name), in which Griffin lamented her inability to look as glamorous as the French movie star.
Unfortunately, The Morning After doesn’t offer enough of this type of songwriting to consistently engage. Griffin and Momtchiloff both score stand-out tracks, the title track and “What Adam and Eve Did Next” respectively, and there are a few more charmers in the mix, but ultimately there’s not enough here to make The Morning After anything more than a pleasant collection of short, lo-fi guitar pop tunes.
The shame of this is that you can’t help but wonder if such twee pop conventions are a cage as much as a style. It’s hard to imagine “Big Cat Act” or “Too Old” done in any other style, but at the same time you also yearn for something more toothsome (and, ironically, the one time you really get it is on a track called “Le Crocodile”). Still, with “Too Old”, and to the same extent “Innocent Abroad”, this kind of austere and lounge-infused sound still works to create a distinct atmosphere. It’s just that tracks like “What Adam and Eve Did Next” stand out so much in contrast that you want more of these jangly and energetic numbers.
If you’re looking for an autumnal, calmly upbeat album to listen to while wrapped up in a big, over-soft sweater and perhaps considering a trip to the cafe for some coffee and self-reflection, you’ll be well-served by The Morning After. Its offering of mid-range guitar tunes and cool girl-harmonies will be a pleasant, if unassuming companion.